NagaWorld Strike Persists Despite Violence

A gathering of NagaWorld's employees on the evening of 27 June 2022. Photo: Lay Sopheavotey

More than six months after their strike began, 220 workers still fight to be reinstated to the company

PHNOM PENH – NagaWorld workers carried on their strike on June 28, despite the clashes with security forces that occured the day before. Today’s protest started in front of Aeon Mall 1, on Sothearos boulevard, but was quickly blocked by policemen who put up barriers in front of the Russian Embassy, blocking the way to demonstrators.

“We stopped the protest because we were afraid to get arrested,” said Uk Sopheak Molika, one of NagaWorld workers, who attended today’s strike despite violent clashes that occurred yesterday.

On June 27, around 70 workers gathered to carry out their nearly daily strike, urging the casino to reinstate 220 workers who have been laid-off and to let a major labor union operate freely.

But while protestors attempted to make their way to the casino’s buildings, they were blocked by policemen and security guards at the corner between Sihanouk and Sothearos boulevards. Heavy clashes between the two groups bursted, as recorded by Facebook live streams taken by the workers.

Kim Sokha, one of the strikers, said that the authorities used force and dragged strikers on the ground while blocking the road. They even used their​ walkie-talkies to hit the strikers, she said, adding that she was dragged by five policemen.

“I do not know what their hearts are made of,” Sokha said. “They make a living using citizens’ money, yet they do this to us and protect the company.”

She said some security forces were under the command of a group of people in plain clothes, but she did not know who they were or where they were from.​ The strikers just wanted to gather in front of the company, she added.

Another striker, Seang Sakada, said that despite the violence she and the other workers will continue their strike until an acceptable solution is provided. She said the company discriminates against the union in the company, while the authorities seemed to take side with the company.

“Even though the authorities mistreat us, we will continue as long as there is no solution,” said Sakada, adding that the unions within the workplace are crucial to support and prevent the workers from being exploited.

Following the protest, the Phnom Penh City Hall said that the group of strikers was under the pre-planning of a handful of people to create a bad image of the authorities. The City Hall added that the incident caused by the strikers created public disorder, causing some police officers to suffer minor injuries. Five walkies-talkies and one watch were damaged, the City Hall said.

Chhim Sithar, president of the NagaWorld union, urged the Town Hall to show the evidence. She said the workers have recorded the activities of the authorities who used force and hit the strikers. Authorities also attempted to disperse the strikers by forcing them into city buses and taking them away.

The City Hall added that the NagaWorld staff gathering was illegal. Based on the law on peaceful assembly, the strikers had to ask for a permission letter and gather at Freedom Park.

No permission letters required

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), said that the right to peaceful assembly and gathering has been guaranteed by the Cambodian Constitution and international conventions, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, strikers tend to be persecuted and their movements restricted by the authorities. She said in fact, no permission letters are needed when strikes are to be executed, only an advanced notice would work.

“The authorities tend to provide a wrong explanation when it comes to carrying out the strikes,” she said, adding that strikes don’t have to be held at Freedom Park.

The scope of peaceful assembly has to be strictly scrutinized and studied according to what is stated in the labor law, Sopheap said. That is why strikers are often persecuted.

She went on to say that authorities should consider all parties as partners, and different tendencies are no offenses.

NagaWorld's labor dispute started in April 2021, when 1,329 workers, many of whom being 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.

In Dec. 18, 2021, 373 laid-off workers, mostly female union members, decided to fight the company’s decision, leading to regular, if not daily, strikes. One hundred and seventy-three of them have since accepted a deal with the company, but 220 workers keep on their fight against the casino, asking the company to rehire them and to respect unions’ and women’s rights.

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