JOINING today’s Global Day of Action called by the international labor movement, the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa picketed the Cambodian embassy in Makati City to condemn the Hun Sen regime’s suppression of Cambodia’s trade unions and to demand the release of 23 imprisoned workers who participated in peaceful protests in Phnom Penh in January but were violently dispersed.
The protesters, including members of the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA), handed to Cambodian Ambassador Tuot Panha a “complaint letter,” which is nearly similar to the letters being given at almost the same time to Cambodian embassies in other countries by the trade unions and activist organizations there.
This coordinated solidarity action worldwide was prompted by the belligerent policy of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen against Cambodia’s budding trade unions as shown in the brutal dispersal by the police and soldiers of a march led by the workers in the thriving garment and textile industry last Jan. 2 and 3.
At least four protesters were killed, 39 injured, 23 nabbed and a sweeping crackdown on dissent followed, especially against trade union leaders and activists.
The January mobilizations were meant to reiterate the grievances of the low-paid garment and textile workers, who were forced to go on strike last Dec. 23 when their demand for a minimum wage hike from $75-$80 to $160 was rejected by the government and companies.
Ironically, even the government-led study conducted by the Labor Advisory Committee Survey Working Group recommended a minimum wage of between $157 and $177, reports revealed.
Studies show that garment workers are also the backbone of the fast economic growth in Cambodia for the last decade. Roughly 80 percent of the country’sexportsdepend on this industry that employs 700,000 workers or about 20 percent of Cambodia’s population. And yet they account for a large part of Cambodia’s working poor.
Almost all garment and textileas well as footwear workers’ organizations joined the strike, including the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), National Independent Federation of Textile Unions of Cambodia (NIFTUC), 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). They comprise 386 plant-level unions and represent 249,700 workers in Cambodia’s textile, garment and footwear industries. Last Dec. 26, there were 127 factories already on strike.
Hun Sen has been Cambodia’s Prime Minister since January 14, 1985, after being appointed first as the Deputy Prime Minister in 1979, when the ruthless Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown through the help of Vietnam. He was a former Khmer Rouge commander himself. He is widely accused as a dictator and corrupt, and uses violence and intimidation to maintain his power.