Unionists Say NagaWorld Strike Will Continue Until Demands are Met

The NagaWorld strike continued on the morning of Dec. 20 with between 200 and 300 striking workers and former employees. Photo from CCHR Twitter

While the government has attempted to paint the strike as a “color revolution” and deemed the strike illegal, rights groups disagreed on legal grounds and unionists vowed to strike until there are negotiations

PHNOM PENH--Now in its third day, the NagaWorld strike continued on the morning of Dec. 20 with between 200 and 300 striking workers and former employees confined to a small space near Naga 2 and the National Assembly after police have blockaded entry to Naga 1 since yesterday morning following a much larger strike on Dec. 18.

The striking workers and former employees have accused NagaWorld of targeting unionists with layoffs earlier this year and are demanding the reinstatement of 365 workers who have refused the termination compensation offered by the company.

NagaWorld laid off 1,329 workers in April 2021, citing COVID-19 pandemic induced losses as the reason for reducing its workforce, but unionists argue that the layoffs predominantly affected long-term employees, pregnant women, injured staff and union activists.

As such, the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) have issued a nine-point set of demands that includes a recalculation of benefits for laid off workers, an end to full-time work being labelled as internships and calling upon NagaWorld to implement orders from the Arbitration Council.

However, the strike was ruled illegal by the Court of First Instances around 10 a.m. on Dec. 18, but the legality of the strike has since been contested by a group of 59 civil society organizations and community groups who have issued a statement of solidarity with the striking NagaWorld staff.

The statement said the laws cited by the court is not applicable to the NagaWorld strike, noting that the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations “states clearly that the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations does not apply to labor disputes which take place outside or adjacent to an enterprise.”

Chhim Sithar, leader of LRSU, said that the strike will continue until there are negotiations and solutions to the nine issues raised by the union.

“At this time, there has still been no negotiation which workers can accept for the solution over the nine points,” she said. “The workers will continue to strike and advocate until there is a solution, despite facing a court order which has accused them of illegally striking, although they have completed legal procedures.”

She added that today saw more violence from security forces who were attempting to block unionists from joining the strike, with one security guard caught on camera threatening to hit one of the striking workers.

It is unclear how many workers were present for the third day of the strike, but Seng Vannarith—a former pit boss who had worked at NagaWorld for 25 years and was fired in April 2021 along with his wife—said that in addition to blocking access to bathrooms, authorities were now stopping vendors from serving those on strike.

“It’s oppression in every way, we could not buy water and were not allowed to go to the toilet,” he said. “We will stop at 4 p.m. but with no solutions, we will have to continue to strike.”

Government aligned media and anonymous Facebook accounts have been pushing a conspiracy theory that LRSU and, specifically, Chhim Sithar were trained by foreign agents to lead the strike against NagaWorld, with some—including government officials—labelling the strike a “color revolution.”

The government has repeatedly labelled collective action or peaceful demonstrations part of a foreign-led conspiracy to overthrow the government, but one Facebook page whose name translated roughly to “Brave Volunteer Women” that described itself as a politician has since been taken down after being reported for spreading fake news. The page, which was then picked up by Fresh News and other online outlets, incorrectly identified various people as agent provocateurs.

Even Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour, who has been a vocal critic of the NagaWorld strike, took to Facebook to issue a public statement on the possible foreign interference at the strike.

“Listening to the assurances of foreigners who are waiting to burn down our house will bring disaster back to you,” Sour wrote in reference to the workers who he had previously accused of working with foreign interests.

“Personally, I fully support any legal action taken by the competent authorities in the event that there is evidence of any foreign intervention or when reason and professionalism walks [down] a dead end,” he added.

Sour cited the COVID-19 risk and said the strike should end on the grounds of safety, but Cambodia has remained steadfast in its decision to reopen every facet of society and the economy after Prime Minister Hun Sen on Nov. 1 called on Cambodia to embrace the new normal.

It is unclear how many workers attended the strike on Dec. 20, but some unionists suggested as many as 1,000 while other observers suggested there may have been fewer people in attendance than this, but the rights groups said that the strike ended today at 4 p.m. and unionists have vowed to continue striking until their demands are met.

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