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Cablegate: Rival Unions Order General Strike, End To

VZCZCXRO8734
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #2084/01 3310824
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 270824Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7638
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 002084

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IL, EB/TPP/ABT
STATE PLEASE PASS TO USTR FOR DAVID BISBEE
COMMERCE FOR ITA/OTEXA
LABOR FOR ILAB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB ECON KTEX CB
SUBJECT: RIVAL UNIONS ORDER GENERAL STRIKE, END TO
NEGOTIATIONS

REF: PHNOM PENH 1928

1. (SBU) Summary. Pro-government union federation leader
Chuon Mom Thol has told members of his federation to stop
participating in bilateral negotiations with garment factory
owners. The directive comes after several pro-government
unions joined with independent and pro-opposition unions in
continuing to negotiate even after a tripartite body set the
monthly minimum wage at USD 50. Pro-opposition union leader
Chea Mony has called for a general strike to start in
December unless garment factory owners return to the
negotiating table, something factory owners say they will do
only if they are able to negotiate non-wage issues like
illegal strikes and union violence. Meanwhile, Chea Mony has
privately said that he is likely to resign if the general
strike is unsuccessful. End Summary.

Unions Told to Stop Negotiating with Factory Owners
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Chuon Mom Thol, the pro-government union federation
leader, ordered members of his federation to stop
participating in bilateral negotiations with the Garment
Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC). On October 21,
he sent a text message to union leaders within the Cambodian
Confederation of Trade Unions, a pro-government and often
pro-management group, telling them to withdraw from
negotiations due to the Labor Advisory Committee's October 19
decision to increase the minimum wage. CCTU union leaders
had mixed reactions to the directive. Those who had been
loyally following Chuon Mom Thol seemed to think that
additional negotiations would yield little anyway, while
union leaders who had been operating more independently in
the negotiations told LES Labor Assistant they had no choice
but to follow instructions.

3. (SBU) International Labor Organization Chief Technical
Advisor John Ritchotte also relayed reports that Oum Mean, a
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Labor, had phoned

SIPDIS
several pro-government unions who had participated in
bilateral negotiations October 20 and told them not to
participate in further negotiations. The embassy was able to
confirm one of these calls -- to Nuon Chantha, one of the
elected negotiators representing the IFC. According to Nuon
Chantha, the Secretary of State warned that if he did not
withdraw from the negotiations, unspecified action would be
taken against him.

FTU President Calls for General Strike in December
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (SBU) On Nov. 3, Chea Mony, president of the
pro-opposition Free Trade Union (FTU), issued a call for a
general strike in December unless GMAC resumes bilateral
negotiations with interested unions. While Chea Mony has not
publicly set a date for the strike to begin, he told us
privately on Nov. 21 that the strike would begin on December
18--a date GMAC had already reported to us as the rumored
start date. For their part, GMAC says that they are willing
to continue negotiating, but that they are unwilling to talk
about the FTU's main demand--a USD 5 increase in the recently
set monthly minimum wage--and instead want a chance to focus
on their concerns, namely illegal strikes and union violence.
Moreover, GMAC is frustrated by the competing voices within
the union movement, and wants a clear sense of who is truly
representing the workers. GMAC reports that some unions have
privately asked for a USD 1 per month increase, an effort
GMAC sees as a union attempt to save face.

5. (SBU) Chea Mony predicted that up to 100,000 workers
might join in the general strike, but gave conflicting
answers as to which other unions would participate. He said
at one point that he did not know if any other unions would
join with a FTU-led strike, but later claimed that several
pro-government unions as well as his typical pro-opposition
and independent partners would participate. (Comment: This
change seemed to be an attempt to project confidence rather
than the result of new commitments from other unions. End
Comment.)

Possible Resignation, Office Closure
------------------------------------


PHNOM PENH 00002084 002 OF 002


6. (SBU) Chea Mony also warned that the FTU would lose their
current office location, as the landlord refused to renew the
lease. Rather than directly mentioning concerns about FTU's
political activities, the landlord cited spiritual worries
relating to the bodies of two slain union leaders which were
brought to the office following their assassinations in 2004.
While Chea Mony notified the embassy of this problem several
weeks ago, he did not respond to offers for GSO
recommendations of realtors who would be willing to work with
the FTU.

7. (SBU) On November 24, Chea Mony told Labor Officer that
he was likely to resign if the general strike effort wasn't
successful. He described himself as "ashamed" and compared
himself and GMAC to "tigers at an impasse." Chea Mony noted
that in Europe and the United States, when leaders can't
achieve their goals, they resign, and said he was doing the
same. He said that he had already fulfilled his duty to the
workers, and would be willing to work in an advisory capacity
after his resignation.

8. (SBU) The FTU President offered mixed views of what might
happen to the FTU after his departure. At one point he noted
that Vice President Sam Srey Mom would become Acting
President and Cambodian Independent Teachers Association
President Rong Chhun was likely to be elected president, but
later speculated that the FTU might collapse. In addition to
the lack of a strong leader and difficulty in finding a new
office, Chea Mony revealed that the union is having financial
problems. Increased labor disputes have created the need for
additional staff, and existing staff members are clamoring
for higher wages that the union cannot afford.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) Within just a few weeks, the pendulum has swung
from a remarkable show of cooperation among Cambodia's
traditionally fractious unions to a dramatic re-assertion of
fraying alliances. Pro-government union leader Chuon Mom
Thol has been losing standing among both the international
labor community and other labor leaders; the level of union
support for him is also questionable. His eagerness to end
bilateral negotiations and ask for government intervention
has convinced many that his labor activities are largely a
pretense for maintaining his status as a CPP insider.

10. (SBU) Comment continued. Meanwhile, Chea Mony seems
bent on his now familiar pattern of aggressive threats and
persistent fatalism. His calls for a general strike are
fairly vague and uncoordinated now, but similar calls in May
escalated in June and led to bilateral negotiations with GMAC
and a USD 5 per month increase in the minimum wage. This
assertive stance is juxtaposed against his resolute inaction
with regard to practical matters, such as finding a new FTU
headquarters location. While Mony's leadership clearly has
its flaws, his resignation would likely lead to a quiescent
union under Acting President Sam Srey Mom, or the reduction
of an effective Rong Chhun-Chea Mony labor coalition to a
single leader -- which would likely be Rong Chhun. End
Comment.
MUSSOMELI

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