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- June 21, 2019 9:24 AM
PHNOM PENH – More than 300 former NagaWorld workers and members of labor unions from several labor federations gathered in front of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training on Sept. 11, to submit a petition to resolve the NagaWorld labor dispute and to drop the charges against the leaders of union activists. They requested intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
On Sunday morning, at around 9 a.m., laid-off workers from the NagaWorld casino demanded representatives of the Ministry to come out to accept their petition. They were asking to end the ongoing labor dispute by reinstating about 150 union members to work with remuneration by the labor law.
In front of the Ministry, they were supported by other employees of the casino, who were on strike for the occasion, and factory workers from other unions.
The petition was signed by seven union leaders and the civil rights group Cambodian Youth Network.
Holding a white loudspeaker, Ou Tepphallin, a labor union activist working for the Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF), said the group gathered here to prevent their rights from being violated again and to demand respect for human and labor rights.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, workers encountered many injustices. Unfortunately, the system in our country did not protect us but let bosses of many companies continue to exploit and lay off workers because we exercised our union rights,” she said to the crowd.
Dressed in a light blue blouse, Tepphallin added in a strong voice that if unions would get to disappear, workers will be working like slaves. She stressed that the situation of the workers is deteriorating when they start to stand up and exercise their rights.
Chhim Sithar, president of Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), was also present at the gathering. Sithar greeted the protesters along the Russian Federation Boulevard and recalled the NagaWorld dispute, which has been ongoing for more than a year and has yet to find a solution.
She said that the authorities have so far only used violence and imprisonment as a response to the crisis. “That’s why we’re here, in front of the Ministry of Labor. They are the ones responsible for enforcing the labor law, which states about the freedom of gathering, collective negotiation, and the guarantee of the workers’ rights at the workplaces,” Sithar said through a loudspeaker.
The NagaWorld union leader added that the workers did not have any other choice than to stand in front of the Ministry to make their voices heard, as previous protests in the public space didn’t bring any solution.
Mostly female and union members were laid-off
Protesters declared they want a labor law that truly guarantees that Cambodian workers are not sacked without compensation as the casino company did. NagaWorld laid off more than 1,000 employees amid the COVID-19 pandemic when the workers struggled to survive daily, Sithar said.
“NagaWorld did not dismiss foreign workers but only laid-off Cambodian workers, most of whom were union members,” she firmly said. “That’s the reason we keep protesting for more than a year. No one has ever responded to us, but only force was deployed to persecute and restrict the workers who are mostly females.”
The labor dispute at NagaWorld began in April 2021, when 1,329 workers, many of whom were union members, were laid off despite the company's strong financial position. NagaCorp, NagaWorld's parent company, reported net profits of $102 million in 2020. After months of conflict, more than 1,000 former workers accepted their faith without further protests. But the remaining employees are requesting the company to rehire them and respect the rights of unions and women.
Among the crowd who was holding banners depicting the NagaWorld buildings and the company’s bosses, Chhim Sithar continued that the workers need the unions as their representatives in the workplace to negotiate wages and protect them so that they can have a decent and comfortable life. She blamed the company for not providing them with decent wages while not doing enough to guarantee a safe environment at the workplace.
“When the employees have a conflict with the customers, the company tells them to confront the customers on their own. Is it fair?” Sithar asked the crowd. “When the company makes profits, it takes to its pockets. But when the customers hit the employees in the workplace, the company tells them to sue the customers on their own.”
Seeking Hun Sen’s intervention
After about one hour, the crowd demanded representatives of the Labor Ministry to come out and accept their petition. Seeing no one appeared, union leaders and protestors decided to march along the Russian Federation boulevard, heading to the Office of the Council of Ministers to submit the petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen, asking for his intervention.
Ou Tepphallin of CFSWF was marching while voicing the protection and the rights of the workers through the loudspeaker. The members also shouted along with Tepphallin.
Arriving at the Techno Sky Bridge, the group was confronted by the Tuol Kork district police, who tried to prevent the group from reaching the Council of Ministers and moved workers below the bridge to avoid traffic congestion.
The Governor of Toul Kork district, Chea Pisey, was on site to intervene.
About half an hour after the group was blocked under the bridge, Nin Vannak, deputy director general of the Labor Ministry came to meet the protestors. After a verbal conflict with union leaders, he eventually accepted the petition and said he would submit it to “the leader of the ministry”.
Once the petition was submitted, the group clashed with the Tuol Kork police to make their way to the Office of the Council of Ministers. Despite the intervention of Mean Chanyada, Phnom Penh’s deputy governor, clashes didn’t stop until Chanyada let the group walk in line to their destination, escorted by the authorities.
Once arrived in front of the Office of the Council of Ministers, Mean Chanyada accepted the petition, saying he would submit it to the Council of Ministers on a working day. “We hope that the dispute between the workers and the company will be solved based on the labor law so that we can [quickly] reach an end to it,” Chanyada explained to the union leaders while holding the petition in his hands.
Chhim Sitar then said the workers and the union will keep protesting until their demands are met. “Don’t exchange money for rights,” she said.
Asked what the Labor Ministry will do next, Heng Sour, the ministry’s spokesperson, told Cambodianess on Sept. 11 that the “Ministry will urge the NagaWorld workers to file a complaint to the court as stated in the procedures for resolving joint labor disputes.”
On March 14, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court granted bail to eight of the eleven union officials and members who had previously worked at NagaWorld and were detained for planning a strike in response to their layoffs. They have been charged with incitement.
Out of the 373 former NagaWorld employees who were actively contesting the casino’s decision, 239 have consented to accept severance pay as of Sept. 4. Another 134 workers are continuing to protest, according to the statement issued by the Labor Ministry.