Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Civil society organizations and unions express disappointment with NagaWorld layoffs

The NagaWorld casino and hotel complex as seen in Phnom Penh, December 1, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
The NagaWorld casino and hotel complex as seen in Phnom Penh, December 1, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

25 organizations, associations and unions have expressed their disappointment with Phnom Penh casino NagaWorld for what they describe as its attempts to dissolve the casino’s union leadership structure, saying that the move was unreasonable and unacceptable during COVID-19.

Chhim Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, said that NagaWorld planned to lay off 1,329 staff members out of its total of more than 8,000 staff due to the COVID-19 crisis. Of that number, she said, 82% are union activists and elected union officials, as well as 373 staff who still don’t accept the compensation being offered to them.

The groups, which included the NagaWorld Union, Central, Adhoc, Licadho, CCHR, CYN and other civil society organizations, released a joint statement on Wednesday alleging severe violations of the labor rights and basic freedoms of trade union workers employed at NagaWorld. The statement alleged that the recent notice of dismissal of trade union leaders and activists showed NagaWorld’s intention to violate the basic rights of workers to organize for better working conditions.

“The suffering and injustice suffered by workers at NagaWorld is a reflection of law enforcement in Cambodia, and it is a bad example for other employers to follow the experience of NagaWorld,” the statement read. “The neglect of legal enforcement by this enormous company will be a bad example for other investors to emulate, causing more workers to suffer injustice, as well as tarnishing the Royal Government’s image internationally.”

The statement cited the first article of the Convention on the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining, which states that “workers shall enjoy adequate protection against acts of anti-union discrimination in respect of their employment”.

Sithar told CamboJA that the statement was intended to express regret at the labor rights abuses being carried out against the casino’s union members.

“Although NagaWorld used to stop a few times because of COVID-19, now COVID-19 is decreased and Naga III will need 10,000 staff – so why don’t they accept us to work?” she said. “In the first two months of 2021 alone, the company made a net profit of more than US$172 million. [But] it has the intention of dissolving and eliminating the voice of the union.”

She called on the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training to fulfill its duty to explain the abuses being carried out against union members.

“The ministry is very silent on explaining and describing the abuse of labor rights from NagaWorld,” she said. “Even the compensation isn’t in accordance with the labor law, it’s a systematic failure that the ministry did not provide justice for us and the Arbitration Council Foundation has rejected the union’s demands.”

Sithar and other staff will go on strike on 18 December to protest for a resolution, though she said that demonstrators would follow Ministry of Health guidelines on reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We cannot accept if they don’t allow us to strike, unless they provide reasonable and acceptable solutions because we already have high patience to seek solutions – but it’s been impossible,” she said. 

Khleang Soben, 42, a union member at NagaWorld, described being fired by NagaWorld in May 2021 after being told that the company was restructuring. She said she had been working hard for the casino for 18 years.

“We have been working for a long time,” she said. “The company should think about the right compensation … We cannot accept such injustice, and we old people find it hard to find work, we can only continue to demand work.”

For the past six months, she said, she has had to face daily food shortages and trouble paying for accommodation. She told CamboJA that she hopes the relevant authorities will soon provide a solution to the employees that NagaWorld has let go.

Representatives of NagaWorld staff submitted a petition on June 8 to the Labour Ministry to reinstate some 1,300 workers from the casino company who have received a layoff notice. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Leang Mao Manet, a 52-year-old union member at NagaWorld, said that she had been dismissed in April 2021 without any explanation. She said she has been working for the company for 26 years.

After the company paused operations due to the pandemic, Mao Manet said, her family’s livelihood was severely affected. She used to have a decent salary, but now she struggles to pay for everything, including education, children and food.

“My position is that I want NagaWorld to get us back to work, because I am too old and cannot find another job anywhere – I do not have any other skills,” she said.

Som Sopha, 48, another NagaWorld employee, said that she received an online message on May 22, 2021 from the casino stating that she had been suspended due to the termination of her employment contract. Sopha maintains that despite having worked for NagaWorld for 26 years, she has never been given a contract by the casino.

After the company paused operations seven months ago, she went to work on a construction site.

“I continue to advocate just to get back to work, and that the compensation must be appropriate, because in the past, the company should consider my money for 26 years – I have received too little,” she said.

Khun Tharo, program coordinator of labor rights group Central, said that he was sad to see neither the company or the ministry providing any acceptable solutions.

“It’s a serious abuse of labour rights on unions stated in the core convention on labor rights. To dissolve a union, they must find serious wrongdoing, but NagaWorld is absolutely abusing [its power],” he said.

“It’s discrimination from the company to dissolve a union while the union plays an active role in protecting the labour rights and benefits of staff. If this giant company can abuse [these rights] successfully, it’s a bad role model for others.”  

He alleged that union officials had not been able to participate in the labor ministry’s inspection into the proposed layoffs.

“Ministry and inspection officers did not perform their proper duties to solve the union’s requests, and there were irregularities during the inspection because of a lack of participation from the union to seek what their faults were that lead to the dissolution,” he said. “It shows unions did not receive protection under the law.”

Hein Dames, head of NagaWorld’s human resources department, and other human resources officers including Dy Seiha and Ros Bunleng, could not be reached for comment.

Labor ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said that the ministry and Arbitration Council Foundation had fulfilled their duties rightly and legally.

“If the statement that was released could change the result that was already solved legally, we wouldn’t need to write legal documents and legal procedure,” he said.

“During COVID-19 or during an economic crisis, staff layoff is unavoidable,” Sour said. “In the world, there is no law that bans a company from laying off staff during COVID-19. If it exists, please show me.”

Director of the labor ministry’s Inspection Department Ouk Chanthou could not be reached for comment.