Today, at least 50 workers belonging to SENTRO swooped down on the Royal Embassy of Cambodia in Makati to condemn the government of Hun Sen, whom they call a dictator, for its brutal crackdown on workers’ rights in Phnom Penh.
Last 2 January 2014, four workers were killed and at least 39 were injured after riot police and soldiers armed with metal pipes, knives, AK47 rifles, slingshots and electric batons prevented them from marching to Veng Sreng Road in Phnom Penh.
SENTRO protesters shouted “Shame on you, Hun Sen!” as they delivered their letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Cambodia. The protesters were holding pictures of the atrocities of the security forces.
“All these atrocities have to stop immediately,” Josua Mata, Secretary General of SENTRO, said. “After all, standing up for workers’ rights is not a crime,” he added.
At least 28 Cambodian workers were reportedly arrested, many of them, including Mr. Vorn Pao, President of IDEA (Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association) and Mr. Theng Savoeun, Coordinator of CCFC (Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Communities), are in urgent need of medical treatment after having been severely beaten up.
The authorities, however, are holding them incognito. Inquiries made by the United Nations (UN), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights NGO, to various government agencies have failed to confirm where they are being detained. There are reports however, that the workers are being detained at the Takeo Correctional Center (CC3).
“We are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of all those who are being held incognito,” Mata said.
The government crackdown is aimed at breaking the resolve of garment workers who went on strike starting 23 December 2013 to press for the increase of minimum wages from $75-$80 to $160. Even the government-led study conducted by the Labor Advisory Committee Survey Working Group recommended a minimum wage of between $157-$177.
Garment workers have been the backbone of the fast economic growth in Cambodia for the last decade. Roughly 80% of export from Cambodia relies upon 700,000 garment workers while about 20 % of the Cambodian population live on their earning. And yet, they still account for a large part of Cambodia’s working poor.
Almost all garment, footwear and textile workers’ union federations, including Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia (NIFTUC), the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union (CATU), Free Trade Union of Workers of Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), Worker Friendship Union Federation (WFUF), and Independent Youth Union Confederation (IDYTU) joined the strike. Together, the federations comprise 386 plant-level unions and represent 249,700 workers in in the textile, garment and footwear industries.
By 26 December, there were 127 factories already on strike.