The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) urged the Cambodian government on Friday to raise the minimum wage of garment factory workers, to find justice for the five workers killed and to release the 21 workers in jail since January.
ITUC representatives from Asia and Europe held meetings on Thursday and Friday in Phnom Penh to discuss developments in Cambodia’s garment sector—particularly the defacto ban on freedom of assembly and the violent crackdown on protests in January. At that time, military police opened fire on demonstrators, killing five workers and injuring dozens more.
“The trade unions from the Southeast Asia region are all deeply concerned with the developments in this country…. Representatives from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Fiji and Singapore…are supporting the Cambodian trade unions in their struggle,” said Jeffrey Vogt, legal adviser at the ITUC’s department of human rights and trade union rights in Brussels.
“They produce over $5 billion [in exports] a year, so certainly [the factories] can support a higher minimum wage,” than $95, said Frederick Ho, deputy director of the Singapore National Trades Union Congress. The unions’ concerns, he said, would be discussed with the International Labor Conference in Geneva in May.
Jotika Sharma, an education and publicity officer of the Fiji Trade Union Congress, said that Cambodian workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of assembly had to be respected.
“We are very concerned that the government has repeatedly interfered and prevented workers from assembling peacefully. In my country, Fiji, which is also ruled by a military dictatorship, workers are very well aware of this issue,” Ms. Sharma said.
Mikyung Ryu, international director of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, said Korean workers were shocked to learn that the January shootings occurred in front of a Korean-owned factory in Phnom Penh.
“In the beginning of this year, people in Korea were very shocked because workers asking for higher minimum wage were arrested, injured and killed. Especially in front of the Korean company Yakjin, during this clash, the government deployed military soldiers,” Ms. Ryu said.
Ath Thorn, President of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said that workers would continue to strike until their demands, including a minimum wage of $160, were met.
“If the government cannot solve all our problems, then the [investors] will consider whether to invest in Cambodia or not,” Mr. Thorn said.
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