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
"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."
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.
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.