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Cablegate: Recent Developments in Leading Cambodian Union

VZCZCXRO2757
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #1461/01 2290853
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 170853Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7161
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 1523
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 001461

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP, EAP/MLS, DRL/IL--MARK MITTELHAUSER, AND
EAP/TPP/ABT THOMAS LERSTEN
LABOR FOR ILAB--JIM SHEA AND JONA LAI
GENEVA FOR RMA
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USTR--BARBARA WEISEL AND DAVID BISBEE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PHUM CB
SUBJECT: RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN LEADING CAMBODIAN UNION

REF: PHNOM PENH 1264

1. (SBU) Summary. Several significant events related to the
Free Trade Union (FTU), Cambodia's most important
pro-opposition union, occurred during the month-long hiatus
in minimum wage negotiations between unions and garment
manufacturers. The FTU formed a new confederation with
long-time partner, the Cambodian Independent Teachers'
Association (CITA). The FTU has also joined an effort led by
the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) -- a long-time
supporter of the labor movement -- to organize rubber
workers, a sector currently represented only by a
pro-government union. Three FTU officials from one factory
were convicted of illegal confinement and sentenced to time
served and probation. End Summary.

Free Trade Union and Teachers Association Confederate
--------------------------------------------- --------

2. (U) Cambodia's two largest pro-opposition unions, the FTU
and CITA established a new confederation, the Cambodian
Confederation of Unions (CCU), on August 6. CITA and the FTU
will remain separate organizations with separate leadership,
but hope that the new confederation will allow for even
closer cooperation and greater influence.

3. (U) FTU President Chea Mony has been notably absent from
labor activities over the past several weeks, spending his
time in his home province seeking treatment for tuberculosis
and typhoid. Some labor observers had speculated that the
confederation was a way of shoring up the FTU leadership
given Chea Mony's ailing health. However, Rong Chhun, CITA
President and Chea Mony's confidante, told Poleconoff on
August 11 that in fact the new confederation had been planned
for months and was originally going to include two other
unions -- the Cambodian Tourism Service Workers Federation
(CTSWF) and the Cambodian Coalition of Apparel Workers
Democratic Union (CCAWDU). When increased labor unrest and
FTU's threatened general strike delayed the formation of the
planned confederation, CTSWF, CCAWDU, and two smaller unions
went ahead and formed their own group -- the Cambodian Labor
Confederation.

4. (SBU) The new CCU confederation may run into registration
problems stemming from its inclusion of both private sector
workers, who are entitled to unionize under Cambodian labor
law, and teachers, who are considered public servants and are
not allowed to unionize. In June, the Ministry of Labor and
Vocational Training (MOLVT) refused to register the Cambodian
Labor Confederation, arguing that the civil servants and
informal sector workers represented by two of the constituent
groups were not entitled to form unions under Cambodia's
Labor Law, and as such must register as associations with the
Ministry of the Interior. Rong Chhun told Poleconoff that he
hopes to avoid this problem by attempting to register with
the Ministry of the Interior, but the Ministry of Interior
may well claim that it has no authority to register
organizations that include unions.

Village Leaders Disrupt Attempt to Organize Rubber Workers
--------------------------------------------- -------------

5. (U) Sam Rainsy Party senior official Mu Sochua is leading
an effort to bring rubber plantation workers, a group
currently represented only by the pro-CPP Cambodian
Federation of Independent Trade Unions (CFITU), into
pro-opposition unions. An August 12, a SRP-led gathering of
about 40 workers at the Chamcar Angduong rubber plantation in
Kampong Cham province was disrupted when the village chief
ordered Mu Sochua's microphone turned off, played loud music
to drown out the discussion, and cursed the workers. Ten
local police officers stood by but did not intervene. About
half of the assembled workers left, but the remaining workers
reassembled a short distance from the original site and
talked with Rong Chhun and FTU Vice President Sam Srey Mom
about the labor law and the role of unions, finally deciding
to organize.

FTU Leaders Convicted
---------------------

6. (SBU) On August 7, three factory-level FTU leaders from

PHNOM PENH 00001461 002 OF 002


Genuine garment factory were convicted of illegal confinement
and sentenced to time served plus three years probation.
(Note: While misdemeanor charges, like destruction of
property, are a common method of harassing union leaders,
post believes that this is the first time that unionists have
been convicted of a felony. End Note.) The three were
charged with using a barricade to confine garment factory
managers during a labor dispute (reftel). While the
barricade and the related strike were illegal, the managers
admitted to Poleconoff on July 6 that in fact they had never
actually been confined.

7. (SBU) FTU leader Chea Mony and Genuine factory owner
Okhna Sheang Chanheng agreed on July 6 that the union would
remove the illegal blockade in exchange for the charges
against the workers being dropped and the workers released by
July 10. The workers immediately removed the blockade. As
the workers remained in jail past the July 10 deadline, the
embassy repeatedly reminded Sheang Chanheng of her agreement,
which had been brokered with embassy encouragement. The
factory owner claimed to have little influence over the
courts and to be running into bureaucratic obstacles in
getting the workers released.

Comment
-------

8. (SBU) While the threatened general strike that propelled
Cambodia's largest pro-opposition union into the headlines
receded from attention for several weeks, there have been
other major developments within the FTU. The FTU-CITA
confederation institutionalizes the close relationship
between the two unions' leaders, and, whether in the works
for months or not, coincides with the withdrawal of Chea Mony
from an active union leadership role. The SRP is likely to
continue greater efforts to work closely with labor unions
with the approach of elections; Mu Sochua has specifically
carved out a role as the party official in charge of union
liaison. Kampong Cham is one province with strong SRP
workers at the grassroots level, and one of the most activist
SRP parliamentarians (Mao Monyvann). End Comment.
MUSSOMELI

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