NagaWorld Strike to Continue after Labor Ministry Meetings Ends in Deadlock

A flurry of meetings between NagaWorld, the Labor Ministry and unionists over the course of Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 have resulted in little fruitful outcomes and the strike looks set to enter a sixth day. Photo from CCHR

A flurry of meetings between NagaWorld, the Labor Ministry and unionists over the course of Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 have resulted in little fruitful outcomes and the strike looks set to enter a sixth day

PHNOM PENH--General Secretary of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), Chhim Sokhon confirmed that the strike will continue into a sixth day after meetings between LRSU and the Ministry of Labor over the course of Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 ultimately resulted in little progress.

“Tomorrow, [we] continue to strike normally until there is a solution,” Sokhon confirmed.

LRSU have said that they will continue the strike until the NagaWorld agrees to the union’s nine-point list of demands, which largely focus on the reinstatement of 365 workers and a recalculation of benefits such as seniority pay for the 1,329 workers laid off in April 2021.

The union has said their members, activists and leaders were targeted by the layoffs, which the company said were necessary in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unionists across various sectors say that targeting unionists, pregnant women and those whose seniority pay is expensive is simply a means of companies trying to cut costs by avoiding paying benefits, which LRSU has also argued, noting how many pregnant women were among those who were terminated earlier this year.

But the strike, which was deemed illegal on Dec. 18, has so far seen no real movement from either NagaWorld or the Labor Ministry, although the police presence has decreased significantly since the first day of the strike which saw riot offices, Phnom Penh Gendarmerie and both uniformed and plain clothes Ministry of Interior staff surround the striking workers.

The company issued a brief statement to its investors on Dec. 19, using the word illegal seven times in the concise communique, which stressed the company’s ability to function despite the crowd gathered outside the premises of Naga 1.

“All business operations and business of the Group remain normal and the Board believes that the illegal strike has had no material negative impact on the overall business and operations of the Group,” the statement read.

Repeated calls to NagaWorld’s media team have yielded little beyond unnamed staff members saying that they have no information to share about the strike or NagaWorld’s strategy for ending it.

Yesterday, LRSU representatives met with the Ministry of Labor at 9 a.m. for an hour and a half—the only fruits of the discussion were that LRSU was tasked with preparing a list of the 365 employees who had been terminated and refused compensation. The list was to be divided into two: One set of workers who wanted their jobs back, another who wanted compensating.

The Labor Ministry said it would inspect the compensation offered to the 365 workers and agreed to meet the union representatives again at 2.30 p.m. the same day, but also offered the union a chance to dissolve the strike.

The 2.30 p.m. meeting was attended also by Mike Ngai of NagaWorld, but only managed to establish that 48 of the 365 workers would accept compensation if paid properly in accordance with the Labor Law, while 252 requested to be reinstated in their former positions and 65 workers remained undecided.

The fifth day of the NagaWorld strike saw at least 200 people gathered outside the casino, having been allowed to return to the original site of the strike after authorities fenced off the business’ premises in the early hours of Dec. 19 in a bid to contain the unionists to smaller areas adjacent to Naga 1.

While those on strike outside Naga 1 were clapping and banging bottles, another meeting between LRSU leadership and the Ministry of Labor was scheduled for 9 a.m., but was pushed back until this afternoon.

The Ministry of Labor issued a short statement on the afternoon of Dec. 22, confirming that an unspecified number of workers from NagaWorld had accepted a settlement, but added that it will continue to resolve the dispute in accordance with the law.

“The Ministry [of Labor] hopes that those who have problems will participate in resolving disputes on a case-by-case basis,” the statement read. “The Ministry [of Labor] would like to inform you that even though you gave the right to someone to represent you, you still have the right to decide your own case. No one can revoke your right to decision”

This meeting saw LRSU request that 318 of the 365 workers be allowed to return to work, which the Labor Ministry said it would pass on to NagaWorld, but the ministry also asked for further clarifications on shift work so it could calculate severance pay for the 48 who wish to accept pay and end their employment at NagaWorld.

“Today we did not meet with the company representatives, we only met with the Ministry of Labor and today’s discussion is about distributing compensation only,” LRSU president Chhim Sithar said. “For the case of workers who want to go back to work, we did not discuss [this issue] as there was no representative from the employer.”

Sithar added that there were still no results that satisfied the demands of her union and so she and union representatives will meet both the Ministry of Labor and NagaWorld representatives on Dec. 23, but until then the strike would continue.

“This strike could be over tomorrow if NagaWorld just reinstate the 312 workers and pay out the 48 others,” said Patrick Lee, a legal consultant with labor rights group CENTRAL, which has been closely following the strike. “At this point, they are the ones prolonging the dispute.”

Lee said it was “wholly unreasonable” for the Labor Ministry and the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration to expect workers to abandon their strike and quietly trust in the system for a resolution.

“NagaWorld workers have been waiting for more than six months already,” he concluded. “It is in everyone’s best interests that the strike ends, but NagaWorld workers need to be provided with an acceptable resolution before that can happen.”

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