Hospitality workers on strike in Cambodia’s biggest casino

Despite pressure from authorities, more than 1,300 workers in Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld have been on strike against mass lay-offs and wage cuts. The entire leadership of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld is among those laid off

December 21, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
Cambodia casino workers strike
Striking workers hold demonstrations at NagaWorld complex in Phnom Penh. (Photo: LICADHO/Twitter)

Over 1,300 hospitality workers in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, are on an indefinite strike for the fourth day straight as of Tuesday, December 21. Workers at NagaWorld, the country’s largest casino and five-star hotel complex, have been on strike despite threats from the hotel management and authorities.

The strike, organized by the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), began on December 18. Workers have been fighting against arbitrary mass lay-offs imposed by the NagaWorld management in April this year.

1,329 workers were laid off in a single month. Among those fired was the entire leadership of the LRSU, including union president Chhim Sithar. The strikers are demanding the reinstatement of 365 of these workers, who the union leadership alleges were laid off illegally for their union activities. 

They have also demanded proper severance pay for the others who have been laid off. Workers are also demanding that the management reverse its decision to impose pay cuts retroactively since March and institute better wages for the nearly 2,000 existing workers.

Meanwhile, the striking workers continue to face pressure from the authorities. According to reports, the Phnom Penh Court of First Instance passed a provisional disposition on December 16 based on a petition filed by NagaWorld management, deeming the strike illegal.

The union has argued that the provisional disposition was arrived at with no legal representation from the striking workers in the hearings. Moreover, the workers were only notified of this order by court representatives on December 18 after the strike began.

Union leaders have also argued that the order gives NagaCorp, which owns NagaWorld, an excuse to fire the striking employees, adding further pressure to break the strike.

Apart from the court order, the local administration has also notified the union to end its demonstration outside NagaWorld under the existing restrictions on public demonstrations imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The union has rejected the administration’s order, pointing out that these restrictions do not apply to labor disputes. Nevertheless, the striking workers faced police repression on Monday as they were blocked from approaching the hotel complex and pushed behind a barricaded area opposite NagaWorld.

Even the national government has been exerting pressure on LRSU and the workers. In the days leading up to the strike, Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training asked the union to “remove” some of its demands in the negotiation process and delay the previously planned strike action.

Despite this pressure and attacks from the authorities, the LRSU looks set to continue the strike and demonstration. On Tuesday, after three days of protest, the management and the governor of Phnom Penh finally agreed to meet with union representatives led by Sithar.

Movements back strikers

In a joint statement released on Monday, 59 trade unions, social movements, farm groups and rights organizations from across Cambodia condemned the authorities’ attempts to undermine the strike.

The statement also insisted that the “legal system must not be used as a tool … to silence workers’ voices” and the authorities and NagaCorp should respect the international treaties on labor rights that Cambodia has signed. The Cambodian government has in the past attracted international scrutiny for its crackdown on labor groups and trade unions.

“The strike at NagaWorld has occurred after consistent refusals by management to engage in genuine or good faith negotiation with LRSU,” read the joint statement, blaming the “failures” of the labor ministry and the local administration to secure a resolution.

Extending solidarity and expressing hope that the striking workers will “not be cowed into silence,” the letter added that the “only way to resolve this dispute is for the company to immediately engage in genuine and good faith negotiations with NagaWorld workers and their representatives to find a mutually acceptable solution.”