Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Eight union leaders released on bail to settle labor conflict

NagaWorld union leaders posing with civil society leaders after their release from prison Monday night. Supplied photo.
NagaWorld union leaders posing with civil society leaders after their release from prison Monday night. Supplied photo.

Eight NagaWorld union leaders were released from prison Monday night after requesting the Labor Ministry intervene to secure their bail.

The unionists have been kept for months in pretrial detention and recently had their bail requests denied in court. Afterwards, they had each reportedly written to the Labor Ministry to request its intervention, adding that they could then help negotiate the end of the casino company’s ongoing labor dispute.

A letter from union president Chhim Sithar dated March 12 stated the group would “promise not to gather to protest or lead protesting” as they had before being arrested.

Sithar’s letter, as seen by CamboJA, also urged all staff both former and current to cease their protesting, while requesting company management not take retribution on strikers.

The eight union leaders could not be reached for an interview after their release.

Three other NagaWorld workers who were also imprisoned during the protests on Tuesday sent letters of their own to the Labor Ministry asking for its intervention in the bail process.

Prison Department spokesman Nouth Savna confirmed the release of the eight union leaders but said he didn’t know why they had been granted bail, directing a reporter to the court system.

Luch Rumdoul, a NagaWorld dealer who has been striking for months, said she was happy to see the union leaders released on bail.

“We will continue to make our demands until the company addresses the nine issues proposed by workers,” she said, adding the workers would continue their strike until a solution was found.

On March 14, the Labor Ministry recognized the registration of a new union purportedly representing NagaWorld workers, apparently undercutting the Labor Rights Supported Union led by Sithar and which has held the ongoing strike. Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment on this newly announced organization.

The casino dealer Rumdoul dismissed the newly recognized union, saying the workers did not recognize its leaders as a replacement for Sithar.

“The new union leaders do not come from the election of Naga World employees,” she said.

 Following last year’s layoff of more than 1,300 workers, hundreds of NagaWorld employees have been peacefully striking since late December. Among their demands has been the reinstatement of 365 holdouts and proper severance pay for those who were laid off. Over the course of the strike, police arrested or detained several strikers, including the 11 who sat for months in pretrial detention on charges of incitement and violating Health Ministry measures related to COVID-19.

Chhim Sithar, president of the NagaWorld labor union, was violently arrested as she attempted to join a peaceful strike. Photo taken on January 4, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Chhim Sithar, president of the NagaWorld labor union, was violently arrested as she attempted to join a peaceful strike. Photo taken on January 4, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Moeun Tola, executive director at the rights group CENTRAL, welcomed the apparent step toward resolving the dispute.

“Both parties find a way of resolving the issue so that we can keep a good image together,” he said.

Civil society observers believe the sudden approval of bail was arranged after interior Minister Sar Kheng met on Wednesday with relevant police and government officials in an attempt to resolve the ongoing NagaWorld labor dispute.

The meeting included representatives from the ministries of labor, justice, health, as well as the offices of the Phnom Penh governor, National Police commissioner and Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Nagaworld workers holding strike at quarantine at the center

Police have in recent weeks turned to roughly detaining the striking workers by shoving, dragging and carrying them into buses under the justification of enforcing public health guidelines.

Some 160 workers holding a strike last Friday were rounded up by authorities to be detained at a quarantine center in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district. They were released the same day after testing negative for COVID-19.

In a live stream posted to Facebook by one of the workers, the detainees could be seen continuing their protest at the center by singing and chanting.

“It is very unjust that all of us were barred [from protesting] and I was arrested six times and brought here because they didn’t allow us to stand in front of NagaWorld,” the streamer said.

“There is no justice, only arrest and ‘color rhetoric’,” she continued, referring to a politically charged accusation regularly used by authorities to quash social dissent.

Though the union leaders have now been released, it is unclear as of now whether the protests will continue.

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