Friday, October 08, 2010

Right royal insult from Royal Cambodian embassy

CAMBODIAN workers will have our support.

IT'S not every day my pals on Brent trades union council make it into the national news, but trades council secretary Ben Rickman, a mild-spoken mathematician member of Unite the union's scientific section, found himself featured on the Daily Telegraph' s news pages yesterday, merely because he wrote to the Royal Cambodian embassy in London.

More exactly, it was the right royal insults Ben got in reply that made news, for setting new standards in diplomatic language. Low standards, that is.

Our secretary had e-mailed the embassy via the Amnesty UK website, to express concern at reports of trade unionists being targeted for victimisation and repression, as they organised national strikes over low pay and poor working conditions in Cambodia's textile and garment industry.

But he was shocked to receive a distinctly undiplomatic response from the embassy's official email address.

Signed the Webmaster, the email said: "It is none of your business!

"Please report to your clown boss to stop this childish game and stop this circus at once? Thank you."

Bro. Rickman replied saying "this is not a childish game and I will not stop until I get a sensible answer".

Two hours later he got a second email saying "please go to the moon and stay there until you get an answer. Cambodia is not part of the British Empire".

Amnesty UK confirmed the response came from the embassy's email address but didn't want to comment further in case they deflected attention from serious human rights issues. A Cambodian Embassy spokesman said he had no record of the emails sent.

Ben had contacted the embassy after seeing an Amnesty report saying workers and activists organizing a nationwide strike of garment factory workers in Cambodia were at risk of arrest and legal action. The five day national strike was called by a coalition of garment industry unions in protest at a new minimum wage set for the garment and footwear industry. Union officials say that 200,000 workers around the country joined the strike.

On 15 September, the Prime Minister authorized the police and local authorities to begin unspecified legal action against strike leaders.The courts are reported to have warrants ready for the arrest of nine individuals for incitement, including Ath Thorn, the President of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) (above left), Morn Nhim (f), President of the Cambodian National Confederation (CNC) and Tola Moeun, Head of the Labour Rights Programme at CLEC Community Legal Education Centre.

The strike was temporarily suspended on 16 September following an offer of further negotiations, but the threat of legal action, including charges of incitement, remained.

At least 45,000 garment factory workers lost their jobs during 2009 as a result of the global economic crisis, and a number of companies reduced salaries. In July the Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), comprised of government officials, industry representatives, and some unions, agreed to an increase in the minimum wage from US$ 56 to US$ 61 per month, which would not be reviewed again until 2014. The CLC and CNC unions called for an increase to US$ 93 per month, as a more realistic wage to cover basic needs and living expenses for workers and their families.

Amnesty says the Cambodian authorities increasingly use the courts to stifle legitimate human rights activity. " Individuals may be charged with incitement or other spurious offences. Freedom of expression is also undermined by charges of disinformation and the use of criminal defamation law suits, the former carrying a custodial sentence.

"Union leaders and activists are vulnerable to attacks, as demonstrated by the killing of prominent union leader Chea Vichea in January 2004, and two other union officials, Ros Sovannarith in May 2004, and Hy Vuthy in February 2007. Perpetrators of the killings of Chea Vichea and Hy Vuthy have not been brought to justice.

Meanwhile when workers returned to their factories on Friday, September 18, they discovered that over 261 trade union representatives at 20 factories were illegally dismissed or suspended from their work. Factory owners, in other words, are massively punishing trade union activists for their role in the organising the strike, which is in direct violation of the Cambodia’s Constitution, the labour Law and ILO conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining.

The Clean Clothes Campaign, which has support in fourteen countries, announced that it was asking garment brands and retailers sourcing from Cambodia to ensure that 261 factory unionists who had been unfairly dismissed or suspended from work were immediately reinstated in their factories. The CCC says it is also deeply concerned about reports of ongoing violence against trade unionists and labour-rights activists, legal threats against organisers, and court-sponsored retaliation against union members.

"We call upon factory owners, the Cambodian authorities, and brands to ensure that workers can exercise their legal right to freedom of association. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), have started an urgent appeal towards the government:

The suspension of trade union representatives has created further tensions as many workers are angry that union organisers have been banned from their factories. At the River Rich factory, more than 2,000 workers refused to start working again because union representatives were refused entry to the factory. In total, twenty-nine workers at four different factories have been injured during clashes with the military police (see for a newspaper report:

For a joint media statement from several Cambodian human rights organisation:

Back in Brent, the trades union council, which meets later this month, is not likely to ignore the insults to our secretary, which amount to an insult to every trade unionist in the borough. Nor will we forget our duty to support our Cambodian sisters and brothers. We won't be going to the moon, not while Cambodian oppositionists saying the current regime should go to hell, nor while the embassy which sends out such foolish insults is too near at hand, right on our doorstep in fact!

Hor Nambora,
Ambassador of Cambodia

The Royal Embassy of Cambodia,
64 Brondesbury Park
London NW6 7AT
020 8451 7850
Fax. 020-8451 7594

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