The International Trade Union Confederation, which claims to represent 168 million workers in 153 countries and territories, slammed Cambodian police and government authorities in its annual report released Tuesday for abuses against union members and leaders.
The 2007 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights cited 13 separate cases of abuses against Cambodian unions in 2006.
“Police attacks against protesting workers occurred on almost a monthly basis, with workers being injured at Parkview Garment, Franco Garment, Sportex Garment, Luan Thai Garment, and Khuy Shing Garment, to name just a few,” the ITUC said in its report.
The report cited the disrupted 2006 May Day march, in which police set up roadblocks and briefly detained Free Trade Union President Chea Mony, as well as other violent acts against union workers.
Bright Sky Factory in particular is singled out as having some of the worst cases of violence against union workers. A strike at the factory on Oct 17 was violently disbursed by armed police, and one female worker from another factory in the same compound was seriously injured when she was shot in the back.
“Numerous other workers were injured when they were hit by police batons and rifle butts,” the report states.
The report also criticizes the criminal convictions of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the two men serving 20-year prison sentences for the murder of Free Trade Union President Chea Vichea in 2004. The ITUC referred to the two jailed men, whom many believe to be innocent, as “scapegoats.”
The killing of Hy Vuthy, leader of the FTU at the Suntex garment factory, who was gunned down on Feb 24, is mentioned in the report, but not elaborated on as the incident occurred in 2007.
“There has been no let up in the anti-union repression during 2007, as witnessed with the murder…of Hy Vuthy,” the report states, adding that it was the third murder of an FTU representative since the assassination of Chea Vichea in 2004. FTU factory representative Ros Sovannareth was gunned down in May 2004.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said he was not concerned by the report and suggested that the fact that unions are able to voice their complaints to organizations such as the ITUC is proof that things are not as bad in Cambodia as some claim.
“The louder the voice of the trade union towards the government, that shows the unions are enjoying more freedom of expression and human rights,” he said Tuesday.
Ken Loo, secretary-general for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, declined to comment on the report as he had not read it, but said that disputes between unions and factories are commonplace throughout the world.
“Both sides are always complaining that the other side is not playing by the rules,” he said.
John Ritchotte, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization in Cambodia, said that violence towards union members needs to be taken seriously.
“It’s a problem for the country’s image,” he said.
Minister of Labor Vong Sauth and Secretary of State Othsman Hassan declined comment and referred questions to Secretary of State Oum Mean who also declined to comment as he had not yet seen the report.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)