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P. Penh court frees workers, activists

Posted by pakin On May - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

PHNOM PENH – A Cambodian court found 25 people guilty on Friday of acts of violence during strikes by garment workers but all were given suspended sentences and freed, a ruling likely to be welcomed by global manufacturers operating in the country.

The deadly crackdown on the strikes and working conditions in the garment sector have attracted international criticism.

Representatives of global brands including Hennes & Mauritz AB, Gap Inc, Puma SE and Levi Strauss & Co visited Cambodia this week to tell the government their buying would depend on stability, transparency and the rule of law, according to IndustriALL Global Union, a labour group based in Switzerland that attended the talks.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court judges convicted the workers, trade unionists and protesters of intentional violence including damage to public property during strikes in November last year and January 2014.

They were given suspended jail terms of between one and 4 and a half years.

Cambodia’s garment industry generated US$5.3 billion (172 billion baht) in revenue last year. The industry employs about 600,000 people and strikes for higher pay and better working conditions have been on the rise.

Cambodian military police opened fire with assault rifles on Jan 3 to quell a strike by garment factory workers demanding a doubling of their monthly wage to $160. At least three people were killed.

The government increased the wage to $100 from $80 but unions and workers have refused to accept it.

They have joined forces with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which has been protesting on and off for months after claiming it won a general election last July. The party of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen won according to the election authority and he remains in power.

Levi’s has cut its sourcing from Cambodia in the past year due to concerns about political instability and human rights violations in the country, the group said in an email to Reuters.

“We reduced our sourcing in Cambodia to reduce supply chain risk and ensure delivery. We hope to see swift progress on the outstanding labour and human rights concerns so our sourcing can return to previous levels,” Levi’s said.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of IndustriALL, said in a statement after the talks with the government: “For the first time global brands have acknowledged that they are prepared to cost in the price of higher salaries in Cambodia.”

Ahead of the verdicts, Mr Raina had said the companies and unions were concerned about the fate of those appearing in court and that Cambodia “was at risk of losing its status as a strategic sourcing market, with an impact on future investment and growth”.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the minimum wage could not be doubled and that it had to go up gradually for the industry to survive. Exports had dropped 17% in the first three months of the year compared with last year, he said.

“There is no country that can double wages,” Ken Loo said, adding that most international buyers had not agreed to pay more to local factories to enable them to increase wages. “If we increase by too much, factories close.”

Move over, rickshaw: Cambodia launches public buses

Posted by Nuttapon_S On February - 11 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Phnom Penh – – Motorcycles, cars, tuk-tuks and the humble rickshaw dominate its traffic-clogged roads, but now the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh is launching a new weapon in the fight against chronic congestion: its first public buses in over a decade.

Cambodia is lagging behind many of its Southeast Asian neighbours who long ago turned to public transport in a bid to ease traffic gridlock in major cities.

The last time the kingdom tried to introduce public buses in the capital Phnom Penh in 2001, they were a flop.

This time, the rapidly-developing country hopes that commuters are ready to swap the door-to-door convenience of motorbikes for the comfort and safety of public transport. “The main goal is reduce traffic jams,” City Hall senior official Koeut Chhe told AFP.

“We think that people understand about public transport now because some people used to travel overseas so they know about this kind of transport system.”

There is growing frustration in Phnom Penh about daily traffic jams and fatal accidents in the city of about two million people, who compete for space on the roads with more than one million motorbikes and 300,000 cars.

As part of a one-month trial, 10 air-conditioned buses have been running from 5.30 am until 8.30 pm on a single route up and down the length of busy Monivong Boulevard since February 5.

If successful, more routes and buses will be added, Koeut Chhe said.

With a fare of 1,500 riels (35 cents), a bus journey is at least five times cheaper than taking a motorbike taxi — locally known as “moto-dup” — the most common transport in Cambodia.

“I feel safe and cool riding a bus, and it’s cheaper,” 33-year-old passenger Doung Rattana said as she took a bus home for the first time from a market with her nephew.

Many locals, including students and young and old people, have used the new public transport, some taking pictures and chatting with friends about the experience.

’Change of mindset’

It is the second attempt by the City Hall and the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to launch a public bus service to address traffic jams.

A similar project in 2001 was scrapped after about two months due to lack of interest from the public.

JICA said the circumstances nowadays are very different, with much heavier traffic on the road.

“The time is ripe for public buses due to a change of mindset of citizens, who are concerned more about safety and comfort,” said JICA spokesman Masahiko Egami.

However, it remains to be seen how popular the service will be in a city where the “moto-dup” is still king thanks to drivers waiting on street corners or outside markets to whisk passengers straight to their destination.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith recently wrote on Facebook that the previous trial was not successful because “most of the people wanted to be dropped right in front of their home, did not want to walk far and would not take a bus if they have belongings”.

“Let’s hope it will be successful this time!” added Kanharith.

Travelling by moto-dup — which sometimes carry two or more passengers — is becoming increasing dangerous as the city becomes more developed and its streets fill with luxury cars and SUVs.

Yet the drivers who rely on motorbike taxis for a living say they are not worried for their future.

“The buses would take time so the people who are in a rush will still take moto-dup,” driver Socheat said.

Cambodia unions face court action over strike

Posted by Nuttapon_S On January - 10 - 2014 1 COMMENT

Union leader says judiciary politicised but pledges to fight charges filed by garment-factory owners after two-week row.

Thousands of garment workers have returned to work in Cambodia since a strike for higher pay was put down with deadly force by the authorities last week.

However, employers are now filing cases in courts against trade unions over the two-week dispute.

Khieu Sambo, an attorney representing the firms against the six unions involved in the strike, told Reuters news agency that more than 150 factories had filed cases and more were being prepared.

“The lawsuits will focus on incitement to strike, damage to property and assets, coercion and threatening workers who want to work,” Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said on Friday.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, one of those targeted, said the judiciary was politicised but he would still fight the charges in court.

“They sued us because they want to intimidate us so we won’t strike any more and we won’t help the workers. We are not afraid.”

The garment-makers’ association said most workers had returned to work around the country by Friday.

However, only about 60 percent had shown up at the Canadia Industrial Park in the capital, Phnom Penh.

The park is home to factories that make clothes for Western brands such as Adidas AG, H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB and Puma SE.

The UN human rights agency said this week five people were killed and 20 wounded by gunfire and beatings on January 3 when military police opened fire on the workers, who were demanding a rise in minimum pay to $160 per month from $100.

The government had offered first $95, then $100, a rise of 25 percent.

The unions rejected that but GMAC’s Ken Loo said a minimum wage of $100 would come into force on February 1.

Police fire warning shots at Cambodia protest

Posted by Nuttapon_S On December - 27 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

Shots fired after police try to move striking garment workers off a road in the capital, officials and activists say.

Cambodian police have fired warning shots at a brief clash with striking garment workers demanding higher wages, a state official and a local rights group have said.

Thousands of Cambodian factory workers, led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, have been demonstrating in the capital of Phnom Penh for weeks now, calling for a higher minimum wage and for resignation of Hun Sen, the prime minister.

The violence broke out when military police tried to move the workers off a road on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh, according to Am Sam Ath of Licadho, a local rights group.

The workers then threw rocks at the authorities who fired “many warning shots” into the air and hit protesters with their batons, he told AFP news agency. Several people on both sides were reportedly injured.

With tens of thousands of garment workers on strike on Friday across the country, activists voiced fears of further violence.

“There are a lot of workers and if authorities use force against them, the violence would spread,” Am Sam Ath said, urging unionists and authorities to hold talks to settle the problem.

‘We had to prevent them’

The security forces said they were forced to act after workers damaged factory property.

“Because they used violence, we had to prevent them,” military police spokesman Kheng Tito told AFP.

“If we did not fire warning shots into the air, they would have totally destroyed the economic zone.”

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, blamed authorities for the latest clash.

“We strongly condemn the authorities for the violence against workers who are demanding an appropriate wage,” he said.

Disputes over wages and safety conditions are common in Cambodia’s huge garment industry which supplies famous brands like Gap, Nike and H&M.

The government announced earlier this week that the monthly minimum wage for garment workers would be increased from $80 to $95 starting from April next year. The workers are demanding a minimum wage of $160 per month in 2014.

The sector employs about 650,000 people and is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished country.

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