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PHNOM PENH – NagaWorld union leader Chhim Sithar has denied in court that outside pressures pushed the casino workers to go on strike or that funds from international organisations were used to support the dispute.
The hearing in the second trial of NagaWorld unionists was attended by eight union members and Sithar as defendants.
However, the prosecutor, judges, and lawyers at Phnom Penh Municipal Court had time to question only Sithar during the three-hour session on Feb. 28.
The trial began with deputy prosecutor Seng Heang asking about the strike organization on New Year’s Eve 2021 as well as the plan to close the street for protests.
Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, said the workers volunteered to go on strike without being forced by anyone.
The prosecutor asked whether the protestors were still NagaWorld employees and questioned money given by international organizations such as JASS and EWMI, as well as the participation in training courses abroad.
“Based on Labour Law, the company laid off the workers unjustly, and the dispute has not been resolved,” Sithar said.
“Therefore, there is no statement of the law that says we are not the employees. I am still an employee.”
Trial Chamber president Soeung Chariya asked Sithar if she remembered whose idea it was to go on strike.
She said the strike resulted from a vote by the unionists without any force or persuasion.
“It was not a given idea. It was a unanimous idea,” she said.
The workers who were laid off from NagaWorld due to the financial situation of the casino volunteered to go on strike, she said.
Money from international organizations was not used to support the strike. It was used only to provide for workers affected by COVID-19 and to buy food for them.
In the protests, Sithar said she was only a facilitator. Decisions were based on votes.
The trial is due to continue on March 7.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring for LICADHO, was in court for the trial. He said he thought the dispute was between the employees and the company, not between citizens.
He said the unionists had made demands in accordance with procedures but chose to strike because there was no option.
There should not be a burden on any union leader who only followed the joint voices of union members.
In December of 2021, more than 1,000 employees went on strike against NagaWorld after the casino laid off 1,329 workers during the pandemic.
The union leaders demanded the casino review the legal procedures as they thought the decision for layoffs discriminated against the union. The strike is continuing.
Union leaders, members, strikers and activists have been arrested and released many times.
However, Sithar spent two month in pre-trial detention. She was released on bail in March 2022 but was rearrested in November at Phnom Penh International Airport for — according to immigration police — violating bail conditions by leaving the country.
She was returning from a labour rights conference in Australia. LICADHO says neither Sithar nor her lawyers were told of such a condition.
Originally in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this story was translated by Meng Seavmey for Cambodianess