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PHNOM PENH – The Labor Ministry has urged NagaWorld workers and unions considering a mass strike to appeal against a court ruling that the strike is illegal.
Naga union leaders say their planned action is legal. However, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has said the NagaWorld strike is not.
On July 11, civil groups and the unions issued a second open letter asking authorities, and particularly Prime Minister Hun Sen, to intervene to end the dispute, which was putting “financial and mental pressure on the strikers.” A first letter was sent on July 5.
“We hope and believe that Prime Minister Hun Sen will intervene and with the win-win policy will provide the solution that is acceptable for both parties,” the second letter said.
Union representatives joined the strike last week and said members would strike across the country if no solution was found for the Naga dispute.
Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said the strike has been considered illegal by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court since December, 2021.
“You should respect the law by relying on your lawyer to appeal the court order before proceeding or planning any rallies again,” Sour said on June 12.
“If you continue to act as you are now. You are against the Labor Law and other laws. On the other hand, the action that you have taken and plan to take is not a strike in the sense of the Labor Law. It is an action that leads to a demonstration, in which case another law has to be implemented.”
Chhim Sithar, president of Labor Rights Supported by Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, said that what they are doing is according to the law, accusing the government of never urging the company to address the problems but instead persecuting the strikers.
“Their response is not new to us,” she said.
Sithar said the workers had two choices – to strike and appeal to the court – after the Arbitrary Council issued a decision on the dispute. The workers chose to strike, which was not against the law, she said.
Sour said that after passing the dispute to the Arbitration Council, the parties to the dispute must continue to complain to the court to settle the conflict.
The parties can strike after going through the Arbitration Council. But according to the law, they must also stop striking immediately if the strike is considered by the court to be illegal, he said.
“Once the court has decided, they should use judicial mechanisms to resolve disputes. The strike could not continue as the court ruled that the strike was illegal.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said that the mass strike by unions from different sectors was still being considered. They had taken many actions to no avail before choosing to strike.
Urging the strikers to appeal to the court showed that the ministry intended to avoid solving the dispute for the workers, he said.
“What they said is only to intimidate the strikers and those who want to join the strike,” Chhun said. “We are not worried nor scared. We will do what we have planned to do if there is no acceptable solution for the workers.
“We also have a legal consultant. What we are doing is not against the law. We do this according to what is stated in the Labor Law and the Constitution. It’s not wrong.”
The inter-union strike was still under discussion as the unions and the strikers wait for intervention from the government. He said the unions did not want to hold the mass strike but their demands were reasonable and it was crucial that they be accepted.
The mass strike could be implemented if no solution was found.
On July 13, five more NagaWorld employees accepted compensation, bringing the total giving up to 210. Only 163 strikers remain.
When asked if he is worried that many workers keep accepting the compensation, Chhun said the workers have the right to continue or stop, but he encouraged the remaining strikers to fight for the freedom of labor and unions in the country.
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.
The remaining workers are asking the company to rehire them and to respect unions’ and women’s rights.