The NagaWorld Labor Dispute Remains Unsolved after Many Government Mediation Sessions
- By Sam Sopich
- March 26, 2022 5:39 PM
In a joint statement, 72 NGOs appeal to the government to stop workers’ intimidation
PHNOM PENH--The NagaWorld strikers have reduced the number of their demands in the hope of finding a “win-win” solution while the company management stands firm on its position.
On March 23, the negotiation session between NagaWorld workers and the company representatives overseen by the labor authorities remained unfruitful even though the workers’ only demands were to allow employees to return to work and paying those who had resigned what they were due.
Chhim Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, said that the workers have always sought a proper and acceptable solution for all.
Still, with these few demands, the company does not respond, she said, adding that the company had refused to rehire 200 workers who were laid off in exchange for those who voluntarily resigned.
“Why don’t they want to make the exchange,” Sithar asked. “It’s a good option for all. But because there are unions and activists among the strikers, they don’t want to accept.
“We see that the Naga company does not have the intention of ending this conflict,” she said. “They accused us of [organizing] a disorderly strike, but when we come to the negotiating table and provide alternative solutions, they don’t accept them.”
Sithar went on to say that, if the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training cannot negotiate a solution to the dispute, at least the strikers’ rights to a non-violent strike should be guaranteed. It is the last choice for workers to pressure the company to accept their requests, Sithar said, adding that the authorities should respect strikers’ rights.
The employees of NagaWorld have been protesting against the company since December 2021, demanding the reinstatement of more than 360 laid-off employees. The workers and the company have been negotiating with the Ministry of Labor as mediator. So far, the two parties have failed to reach common ground.
On March 23, the Ministry of Labor released a statement on the result of the mediation meeting between the NagaWorld workers and the company, saying that the two parties strongly stood on their positions.
While the striker representatives asked for the employees to be allowed to go back to work and that compensation according to labor laws be paid to those who have been laid off, Hein Dames, the Naga World company representative, strongly rejected the workers’ requests and insisted that issues other than these two should be discussed.
Following the meeting, the Ministry of Labor said that, although no consensus had been reached yet, the ministry was determined to coordinate and set the date for the next meeting between the two parties. The ministry also requested that the two sides work together to resolve this labor dispute, stressing that if the labor dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, the next step will be the court.
Asked about the Ministry of Labor’s suggestion of resolving the conflict in court, Sithar responded, “[w]e all know whether the social justice system [in Cambodia] will protect the workers or employers: The big giant company with thousands of millions of dollars gets the advantage while the workers have nothing.”
Khun Tharo, program manager at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said that the company representative seemed not wishing to budge to help resolve this prolonged labor dispute even though the strikers have reduced the number of demands in the hope of coming to a solution, only requesting to return to work.
“To find a solution, both parties need to show honesty,” he said. “If not, there will be a deadlock in the negotiations.”
The Ministry of Labor seems to have little influence in mediating the dispute effectively, as roughly 10 negotiation sessions have been organized without any solution, Tharo said. This means that this conflict may take a long time before being resolved, he added.
NGOs appeal to the Cambodian government to prevent violence in the authorities’ dealings with strikers and observers
On March 25, 72 NGOs issued a joint statement entitled “Stop Escalating Crackdown on LRSU Strikers” calling on the government to de-escalate the situation and stop the repeated intimidation of strikers.
“We are concerned by recent actions from authorities prohibiting human rights monitors and journalists from observing the continued use of violence against peaceful strikers, most of whom are women,” the statement read.
“On multiple occasions, authorities have barred human rights monitors and journalists from taking photographs or standing near the site of these heavy-handed detentions. Journalists have been threatened with arrest for covering the strike, and in several cases authorities have pushed monitors and journalists away as authorities violently drag strikers onto buses. They have also threatened to detain monitors alongside strikers at COVID-19 quarantine centers.”
According to the joint statement, the authorities have forced human rights monitors to delete photos and videos of such incidents. “If observers continue to be restricted, we fear that there may be a further increase in violence and abuse during this crackdown,” the statement read.
“In addition, in recent days authorities have put strikers into city buses and driven them to the outskirts of the city, dropping them off and forcing them to arrange and pay for their own transport home,” the statement said. “This is entirely arbitrary and serves only to punish workers without any legal justification, reasoning or authority.” The NGOs’ statement added that women strikers have been verbally and physically assaulted including an officer squeezing the breast of a woman forced onto a bus on Feb. 22 and a woman striker hit in the eye when detained on March 22. “These actions are unacceptable, the statement read.
The 72 organizations signing the letter called on the authorities to de-escalate this situation and to take genuine steps toward resolving the dispute, including ensuring that the NagaWorld side participates in negotiations with honesty and in line with the Cambodian law.
On March 23, the Phnom Penh municipal authorities accused the NagaWorld strikers of using inappropriate words and gestures to provoke the authorities. The strikers then captured and showed moments when the authorities fueled with anger accused them of assault and harassment. Those strikers are only trying to play victims to attract attention, the municipal authorities responded.