CNRP deputy Kem Sokha, left, and president Sam Rainsy on a press conference on January 7, 2014 at the opposition party headquarters in Phnom Penh. The two leaders confirmed their position to call on new elections and support the garment factory workers. Photo Arjay Stevens.

Phnom Penh. The leaders of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) confirmed their purpose to ask for the resignation of P.M. Hun Sen and call on new elections, while supporting the campaign of garment factory unions for a 160 USD salary and a reform to the Cambodian rules for the freedom of association. “We are also trying to do is to brake the monopoly of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC)… (…) Normally there should be freedom of association between any factory with their workers. If a company is willing to pay more than 100 USD, why should it prevent them in doing so?” said CNRP’s president, Sam Rainsy in a press conference last Tuesday at the quarters of his party. 

The GMAC represents 400 garment and footwear factories and it is the only one in the country, according to its official website. In a December statement, the associations seems to urge the government in taking “action against crafty unions who have always used violent and non-procedural strikes and demonstrations demanding benefits from the employer.” (GMAC, 2013, para.1) The statement came after an incident on December 16, 2013 at the SL Garment Factory when angry strikers beat two men they accused to be “spies,” but the Association called “innocent workers.” In a letter to The Cambodian Daily on November 27, 2013, Ken Loo, GMAC Secretary-General, complained about the “impunity of trade unions”: “Over the years there have been countless reports of strikes that have occurred in the garment industry and the Garment Manufacturers Association (GMAC) has always pointed out that these strikes have not complied with the procedures as set out under the Cambodian Labor Law.” (Ken Loo, 2013, para. 1) Ken Loo mentioned in his letter that several of those strikes have even involved violence, but there is not an explanation on why strikers became so violent.

Sam Rainsy continued in his press conference that the mechanism of negotiation of the workers and their employers has to be reviewed. He accused also the role of the government as not productive: “Minimum wage is not a rule, it is not an obligation to pay only that minimum of money… You are free, you are engaged to pay more than the minimum,” he said.

The opposition leader mentioned also that his party has been in contact with factory owners: “They told us in private that corruption in Cambodia prevent them from giving 160 USD to the workers. So, if there are measures to reduce the corruption in this country… the government corruption… the systematic corruption… they will be in the position to enable them to raise the minimum wage to a higher level.”

P.M. Hun Sen requested the creation of a committee to investigate in the recent garment strike crackdown, assessing property damage and studying the possible increase of the minimum wage.

South Korea embassy denied involvement in crackdown

The South Korea embassy in Phnom Penh denied any involvement in the strike’s crackdown after Global Post accused it of urging the Cambodian government to protect the Korean owned factories from strikers according to a statement posted at the embassy website and lately removed. “It is the responsability of the ROK government to protect its nationals overseas and therefore request the host countries to protect their safety when necessary,” said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea to Global Post in a letter, stating that other countries like China and Japan are said to have done similar requests to the Cambodian government. (Geoffrey Cain, 2014, para. 30)

The Ministry denied that the Yakjin Korean Company had requested military intervention and they do not know why a man among the security forces wore a button of the Korean flag: “The ROK government has never provided army fatigues to Cambodia,” he concluded.

The report by Global Post attracted the solidarity of Korean human rights groups, the Confederation of Trade Unions and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy that led a protest in front to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Seoul last Friday.