Mass Inter-Unions Strike Considered if NagaWorld Dispute Unsolved

Rights civil groups and unions in different sectors joined the NagaWorld strikers to seek intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the prolonged labor dispute. Photo by Lay Sopheavatey

Unions leaders from different sectors warned to potentially join the long-lasting strike to show support to Naga’s workers

PHNOM PENH – Rights civil groups and unions in different sectors joined the NagaWorld strikers to seek intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the prolonged labor dispute. The union representatives say they will gather their members and go on strike across the country if no solution is brought to the Naga strikers.

On the afternoon of July 5, 37 civil society groups and union federations​ issued an open letter requesting the authorities, and particularly Prime Minister Hun Sen, to intervene to end this labor dispute, which is putting “financial and mental pressure on the strikers.”

Some union leaders showed up on Sothearos Blvd to support the strikers, where barricades were employed to prevent them from getting closer to the casino company. The strikers were wearing a piece of blue fabric around their heads, which stated, “don’t use money to buy the rights.”

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was also present at the striking site to support Naga’s workers. He said the union federations in different sectors, such as textile, garment, construction, and so on, will discuss and gather their members to strike across the country to urge the government to provide a suitable solution for the Naga employees.

However, the location and dates are still to be discussed, he said.

Chhun added that all the unions did not want to see the dispute between the workers and the casino company prolonged without the effort to seek an acceptable solution for the strikers who have been on strike for half a year.

The Labor and Vocational Training Ministry and the government seemed not to pay close attention to the workers, which he and the unions are concerned about, he said. The Naga dispute case is an example of which the rights and the freedom of unions are being violated. Similar cases will occur if the NagaWorld labor dispute is not resolved with justice and according to the labor law, he said.

“All unions have this plan. For those who have not been informed, we’ll also try to persuade them to join,” Chhun told Cambodianess.

He continued that the NagaWorld dispute is not a major dispute and can be easily resolved if only the company agrees to reinstate the remaining workers who are unionists. The Labor Ministry and the government, however, do not want to resolve the dispute that way, which seems like they are protecting the company but not the workers, Chhun said.

“If the prime minister says something, this dispute will end,” he said, requesting Hun Sen to intervene and solve this prolonged conflict for his citizens.

Chhun said the Cambodian society is corrupt and the company can use money to serve its own interests and prosecute the workers.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said she will gather her members to join the strike with the NagaWorld workers if no solution is given to them.

“All of the members said they will support but the number of those who will join [the strike] is still uncertain,” she said.

Sophorn said that it is not about the money but the rights and freedom of the unions in Cambodia. The civil society groups and the other unions cannot stand watching without deploying any action while the rights of Cambodian citizens are being restricted and violated.

“We want our rights to be respected,” she said.

President of the Building and Woodworkers Trade Union of Cambodia Sok Kin said he will discuss within his union about the timeline and the number of members who might join the strike. But it is still uncertain.

“It seems like the government let the company continue enjoying its business while the workers are suffering,” he said. “I request the relevant authority to respect the rights of the strikers, and the company to come out to solve the dispute.”

The government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the gathering of the other unions is their political procedure. If they are dissatisfied with the work of the Labor Ministry, their only choice is to let the court resolve the dispute. The court is the only major decision-maker, he said.

“Let’s see what the prime minister will do. It is his prerogative. The prime minister will as well discuss it with the Labor Ministry because it’s the work of the ministry,” Siphan said.

He said he believed prime minister Hun Sen will act according to the law and the Constitution. “Cambodia has the law and the constitution, so no one can make a rain or thunder to threaten the prime minister,” he said.

The Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour could not be reached for comments.

Intention to put financial pressure on strikers

Khun Tharo, program manager at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said the Naga dispute is between the company and the workers, but it actually seems like the clash is only between the government and the workers. He said the government has a role to guarantee public order and that the citizens are able to fully exercise their rights and the rights to peaceful assembly without restriction and violence.

“But now we see that the strikers have been restricted while the violence was also committed upon female strikers. They not only have their rights restricted but also suffer from violence. It’s against the law,” Tharo said.

He is currently investigating why the authorities used force on strikers, whether they had been ordered to do so–if so, who gave that order– or whether security forces have a tendency to use violence on strikers.

The company and the authorities seem to have the intention to impose financial pressure on the strikers so that they will accept the compensation and leave the strike, Tharo said.

To date, 205 among 373 workers have accepted the compensation to terminate the contracts with the company. Only 168 workers remain and continue the strike despite being under financial pressure and suffering violence on site.

Tharo said the authorities are not trying to solve the root cause of the dispute. The main problem is the reinstatement of the workers who are the unionists and the respect of the independent union in the company.

“It’s not about money. If it was about money, they [the remaining strikers] would accept the compensation, move on and stop the strike,” he said.

“We still insist PM Hun Sen intervene as only he has the power to solve the dispute. It’s the issue of their rights and not related to the overthrowing of the government.”

NagaWorld's labor dispute started in April 2021, when 1,329 workers, many of whom were union members, were laid-off despite the company’s good financial situation. NagaCorp, NagaWorld’s mother company, recorded $102 million in net profits in 2020.

On Dec. 18, 2021, 373 laid-off workers, mostly female union members, decided to fight the company’s decision, leading to regular strikes. After 205 of them agreed to take the financial compensation offered by the company, the remaining 168 workers kept on their fight against the casino, asking the company to rehire them and to respect unions’ and women’s rights.

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