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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - May Day silenced by Union fears

May Day silenced by Union fears

cheavichea.jpg
cheavichea.jpg

Unlike last year's celebrations, when a thousandsstrong march of garment workers

was met by police bearing electric batons and fire hoses, International Workers'

Day 2006 passed without significant public demonstrations from the Kingdom's

embattled labor union movement.

"We didn't celebrate May 1 this year because we didn't want our workers to receive injuries or death when government authorities disperse them," said Free Trade Union leader Chea Mony, brother of slain union martyr Chea Vichea.

In previous years in Cambodia, May 1 has

proved a flashpoint for political rallies and strident speeches led by the

opposition and civil society. Last year, three Free Trade Unoin members were

arrested and held at Russei Keo district hall. Workers' Day is held in

commemoration of the Haymarket Riot of 1886 in Chicago - a seminal protest that

led to the 8-hour workday in the US.

Chea Mony, chairman of Free Trade

Union, told the Post that his confederation did not celebrate May Day this year

because of fears of violence.

"I think that the freedom of expression in

Cambodia now is worse than before 2003," Mony said. "We didn't celebrate May 1

this year because we didn't want our workers to receive injuries or death when

government authorities disperse them."

Several hundred riot police were

ready in front of the National Assembly on May 1, standing by to quell

protestors who usually gather every year to call for improvements in working

conditions, law enforcement and human rights.

According to one UN human

rights observer, the lack of peaceful protests was baffling as the unions had

received much attention from international labor groups and major buyers.

But some labor leaders believe the union's silence may have spoken

louder than any actions.

The Cambodia Confederation of the Union (CCU)

marked Labor Day in silence as a symbolic appeal to the government to bring to

justice the unsolved killers of two trade union leaders-Ros Sovannareth, and

most recently, Hy Vuthy.

Further, May Day comes amid a major domestic

campaign to free Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the alleged killers of union

leader Chea Vichea who was murdered in 2004.

The global organization

Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), in a April 19 statement addressed to

Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top government officials, urged the Cambodian

authorities to thoroughly and independently investigate the recent death of Hy

Vuthy and bring those responsible to justice.

Rong Chhun, President of

CCU, in a statement called on the Federation of International Trade Unions to

establish an international committee to investigate and charge the real killers

and masterminds behind the murders in order to obtain justice and halt the

culture of impunity in Cambodia.

BSR, an umbrella group representing key

US garment buyers such as The Gap, Eddie Bauer and Liz Claiborne raised concerns

about what they said was "a pattern of violence against union leaders in the

country."

"It is of the utmost importance to us as buyers that the rule

of law be swift, just, and transparent," the statement read. "This ensures a

business environment in which workers can freely exercise their right to freedom

of association without fear of retaliation. It also ensures a stable business

environment for us to continue to source our products."

Khieu Sopheak,

spokesman of the Ministry of Interior told the Post on May 3 that the police

have an arrest warrant for two suspects of the Hy Vuthy murder.

"We are

seeking to arrest the two suspects, and we try our best to arrest as soon as

possible," Sopheak said

The concern comes simultaneously with a downward

trend in the garment sector. In Khemara, director of the department of labor,

told local media that so far in 2007, nine garment factories have closed due to

lack of orders, end of contracts, and bankruptcy. He said the closures have

slashed some 4,000 jobs-3,587 of which were held by women.

"If the main

buyers from the US are ready to stop buying the products from the garment

industry in Cambodia because of the government, as many as 350,000 of workers

will lose jobs," Mony said. "This will affect about their families in the

villages as well."

Mony said that 13 garment factories closed between

2006 to 2007, with the managers leaving without paying the employees. Mony said

many of workers went to other factories but 14,000 were now unemployed.

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