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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CPP said to be diversifying into unions

CPP said to be diversifying into unions

REPORTS have surfaced that Cambodian Peoples' Party (CPP) members are supporting

new trade unions, as Cambodia's emerging labor movement seems increasingly politicized.

Up to four new unions are said to have received CPP backing. One union leader - a

human rights worker accused of being politically partisan in the past - confirms

his members have received support from the CPP co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.

Chuon Mom Thol, president of the fledgling Cambodian Union Federation (CUF), says

he started the union because of unhappiness at political dissident Sam Rainsy's influence

in the labor movement.

Thol said that Sar Kheng had given gifts to CUF members, and was the main supporter

of the union, but denied that there were any political strings attached.

Mom Thol is also president of the CHARTO human-rights NGO and chairman of last year's

International Human Rights Day, which prompted controversy when only Second Prime

Minister Hun Sen (CPP) was invited to speak. Other human rights groups boycotted

the event, claiming that Mom Thol's management of it was politically-biased.

The Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) - which is

associated with Sam Rainsy, the Khmer Nation Party (KNP) president - claims knowledge

of four new unions which it alleges are part of a CPP bid to establish docile labor

groups and counter the influence of real labor advocates.

Meanwhile, Funcinpec MP Kann Man alleged that the head of the National Police, Hok

Lundy (CPP), supported the creation of another new union.

FTUWKC president Ou Mary said she did not know of Lundy's involvement in that union,

but claimed that the police chief had tried to bribe her to give up her labor activities.

Mary said that shortly after the creation of FTUWKC, Hok Lundy specifically offered

her several thousand dollars, which she declined, on the condition she discontinue

her organizing drives.

Mary claimed that FTUWKC union members are being routinely threatened by CPP police

who question workers' political alliances while they are exiting factories. They

allege that police have made statements such as: "If you vote for the wrong

party we will kill you".

She said that her union began to notice splinter labor groups in mid-February, and

heard of gift-giving by CPP officials. She alleged that most recently, on Mar 9,

radios and cash from Sar Kheng were given to workers to entice them to join Chuon

Mom Thol's CUF.

Mom Thol conceded that girls were given on another occasion, Feb 9, at an "informal

meeting". They included donations of 20,000 riels and and radios, he said.

But Mom Thol stressed that the gifts to workers were only acts of generosity. He

denied that his union was a tool of CPP, but admitted receiving assistance from Sar

Kheng. He said that he was happy that because of outside help - which he said came

only from Sar Kheng - he did not need to charge his members union dues.

"Our intentions are to serve the workers - that's it," he said.

An aide to Sar Kheng said he did not think that the Minister was involved with the

CUF.

"Sar Kheng is an official of the government. He is not concerned with any NGO

or association activity," he said, adding that the Ministry of Interior's only

involvement with the CUF should be to handle its official registration as a trade

union.

Asked if Sar Kheng had given the gifts to Mom Thol's members, the aide said: "I

don't think that Sar Kheng provided him with assistance. You can confirm with Chuon

Mom Thol."

Mom Thol said he started his union in December - he now claims 2,000 members from

30 factories - because he was unhappy at FTUWKC's link to Sam Rainsy.

Mary denies the claim that Rainsy is using her union for his political gain, saying

that it was the union which approached the KNP president for help, not the other

way around.

She said the union had filed complaints about labor abuses to the Ministry of Labor,

but got nowhere.

"[We] went to the National Assembly for help and to lobby the legislature and

to talk about the working conditions and work hours but no one ever paid any attention

to them. So finally we went to Rainsy and that's how he became our advisor and he

gave us the support that [the workers] needed," she said.

Both Mary and Mom Thol claim interest in closing ranks if each believes that the

other is genuine about helping workers. Mom Thol said that "if there is the

same goal ... and if [FTUWKC] is really free" , he would consider joining the

CUF with FTUWKC.

Labor experts say that the political toing-and-froing is not unexpected following

the passing of Cambodia's new labor law, introducing trade union rights.

MP Kann Man (Funcinpec) - who said he did not believe FTUWKC's relationship to Rainsy

was improper - expressed concern at the political influence of gift-giving to other

unions.

He predicted that workers would have difficulty establishing their own unions, as

political parties could hamper their efforts.

Meanwhile, the new labor law was formally signed Mar 13 by National Assembly president

Chea Sim - in the absence of the King, who is in Beijing - and will come into effect

Apr 3.

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