The violence against garment workers in Cambodia has met with outrage all over the world. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has requested an investigation into the events, and that the perpetrators be held accountable. Unions in Thailand and Korea have showed solidarity and staged demonstrations outside the Cambodian embassies.
The violent end to the demonstrations in Cambodia in January this year resulted in four deaths, three missing people, 23 jailed and hundreds of dismissed workers. Trade union leaders have been warned that if they go on strike, their union registration will be suspended or cancelled. More than 100 court cases have been filed by employers against union leaders for inciting violence and damage of property, and six trade union leaders have pending arrest warrants.
IndustriALL Global Union and the ITUC quickly sent a mission to Phnom Penh to talk to the government and garment employers. Soon after, 30 global clothing brands joined IndustriALL, UNI and the ITUC in a strongly-worded letter to the government, demanding that workers’ rights be respected and negotiations on minimum wage re-launched.
The clothing industry is the largest manufacturing sector in Cambodia, with USD 5 billion worth of export per year. Still workers earn only USD 80 per month and live in miserable conditions. Many Cambodian garment workers are forced to take high interest loans to tie them over at the end of the month, while sharing a bedroom with three or four co-workers and eating one meal per day.
South Korea is one the top investors in Cambodia, mainly in the garment, electronics and toy sectors. According to the Korean Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia, the country is the new manufacturing base for South Korean investors, replacing Thailand and Vietnam.
There is worrying information that the South Korean embassy and investors in fact called in the security forces which lead to deadly fire. Korean unions have showed solidarity with Cambodian workers by staging a demonstration in front of the Cambodian embassy in Seoul. They also handed over a letter to the Cambodian Prime Minister, condemning the violent attack on peaceful demonstrations and denouncing the low standard of working conditions in the garment sector, which includes both low wages and short-term contracts.
Also Thai unions demonstrated in front of the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok. Union activists called on the government to stop the violence, release union activists from jail, and to hold accountable those responsible for killing and shooting workers. Demonstrators also denounced the low wage and the long working hours.
IndustriALL Global Union, together with UNI and ITUC, continues action to ensure freedom of association in Cambodia, get the jailed garment workers freed, and restart negotiations on a minimum living wage and with a proper bargaining mechanism to ensure regular wage increases.
“The brands have confirmed in public their support for freedom of association. Now it is time for them to make it clear to their suppliers in Cambodia that the respect of workers’ rights is a pre-condition for their business relations to continue. We will continue the campaign on pay as long as is needed to guarantee a living wage for the workers. Workers have made a justified demand for getting their fair share to live decently, while they are creating huge profits for manufacturers and brands”,
says Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL.
Follow the links below to see details of the 23 January action taken by the TCFUA and other Australian unions in support of the Cambodian unions.