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Related Categories: International | Labor & Workers
1 May - International Workers Day
by Amnesty International (reposted)
Tuesday May 1st, 2007 8:13 AM
Workers around the world are being threatened, harassed, even killed for standing up for their basic rights. According to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, at least 100 trade unionists are killed every year for trying to promote better pay and working conditions for employees. Many states have signed international laws safeguarding the right of trade unionists to act freely, yet some states are consistently failing to uphold their responsibilities under these laws.
Trade unionist gunned down in Cambodia

Hy Vuthy, a prominent member of the Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU), was shot dead while riding his motorbike home on 24 February. The FTU president at the Suntex garment factory had just finished his night shift when he was gunned down within a kilometre of his workplace in the Dangkao district of the capital, Phnom Penh. To date, no one has been arrested for the killing.

He is the third FTU official to be killed in three years. Chea Vichea, president of the FTU, was shot dead in January 2004 in a contract-style killing. Two men, Born Samnang, 25, and Sok Sam Oeun, 38, were arrested for the crime and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment in 2005 after a grossly unfair trial (see Worldwide Appeal September 2006). Their appeal against the conviction was rejected in April 2007. In May 2004, Ros Sovannareth, FTU president at the Trinunggal Komara factory, was murdered.

In recent years, attacks on FTU activists have intensified, with perpetrators going unpunished and the government failing to take any action to reverse the trend of violence. The FTU is one of the largest trade unions in Cambodia and is especially active within the garment industry, campaigning against the exploitation and sub-standard working conditions of garment workers. With high profits at stake, FTU’s actions have been met with a ruthless counter-campaign of harassment and intimidation.

Throughout 2006, FTU representatives at Suntex and the neighbouring Bright Sky factory, lobbied the owner of both sites for improvements in employment conditions, particularly contract periods. Violent assaults on FTU officials at both factories ensued. In May 2006, Chey Rithy, FTU vice-president at Suntex, was attacked while he was riding home from work. In October, Em Chhay Tieng, FTU vice-president at the Bright Sky factory, was hit in the face and threatened with arrest during a strike there. They were just two of several FTU officials to be targeted that year.

Such a disturbing pattern of violence sends a chilling message to trade union activists across Cambodia. “Firstly, the killings spread fear among our members,” FTU President Chea Mony told AI. “Secondly, perpetrators of such violence can just continue since no one is brought to justice.”

One result is a stifling of union activity with workers prevented from demanding their basic rights. “As members of civil society we don’t have the means to protect our people, so many local FTU leaders don’t dare to stand up against malpractices in the factories,” he added.

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