The Arbitration Council has rejected a trade union’s demands that they cancel what the union says is an exploitative new employment contract that workers from the bankrupt Jin Bei Casino in Sihanoukville were tricked into signing.
A labor dispute between workers and the Chinese-owned casino has been ongoing since early 2022, when the company announced bankruptcy due to losses suffered during the pandemic.
The casino, owned by Jin Bei Group, originally employed more than 500 workers, but laid off more than half of them without proper compensation after filing for bankruptcy. The remaining 200 were then transferred to Jin Bei Palace, a hotel which appeared to be owned by the same group.
But the Arbitration Council dismissed the union’s demands at the end of last month after Jin Bei Group, which owned the casino, argued that Jin Bei Palace belongs to a different company.
Morm Rithy, president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Worker’s Federation (CTSWF), which brought the case, said that the company had discriminated against unionized workers and that the new contracts also required workers to work a 12-hour day.
“Workers did not understand the new contract, they were not aware that they were transferred to a new workplace and have now asked to cancel the contract,” he said, adding that the document was only in Chinese and English, not Khmer, which is in violation of the labor law.
Rithy added that according to the labor law, workers can voluntarily move to another workplace, but the employer has to pay them compensation for breaking the old contract first.
The union originally filed a complaint with the Sihanoukville Provincial Labor Department demanding the company reinstate the dismissed union leaders and other workers and that the new employment contract with Jin Bei Palace be terminated.
The department then sent the matter on to the Arbitration Council, which rejected it on July 27.
Jin Bei Group says Jin Bei Palace is not part of them – although they appear to have the same website. It says the two are separate companies that reached an agreement to allow workers from the defunct casino to move to the hotel.
“Even though they’re in the same building, they are two different companies,” the group’s statement to the council read.
But CTSWF’s Rithy said “On the new employment contract, there are two logos of these two companies (Jin Bei Group and Jin Bei Palace), so the workers understood that they were still employees of Jin Bei Group.”
Men Nimmith, executive director of the Arbitration Council Foundation declined to comment.
Sarim Sopheak, a union leader who was laid off, said the council’s decision was unfair for workers.
“No law forces employees to work 12 hours a day, yet the council rejected our request,” he said, adding that the new contracts had been made fraudulently.
On August 1, the Ministry of Labor issued an order requiring the company to accept three union leaders back and offer them full minimum wage from the day of termination to the date of returning.
Jin Bei Group did not respond to the email requested by CamboJA and is now suing three union leaders for incitement.