A meeting between the Ministry of Labor and the unions representing NagaWorld workers made little headway on Friday and ended with the laid-off casino staff vowing to go ahead with a mass protest this month.
The inconclusive talks saw the ministry request more time to negotiate with the Phnom Penh casino owner — which laid off more than 1,300 staff members in April citing a pandemic-related drop in profits.
While most of the retrenched workers accepted redundancy packages well below what they were legally owed, 373 unionized staff members are demanding they be reinstated and say they are being persecuted for their union affiliation.
Khieu Savuth, deputy director of the ministry’s labor disputes department, said he could not comment until government had been able to meet with the company.
“The ministry has asked the union side…to allow the ministry time to speak with the company, then to mediate and negotiate,” confirmed union representative Chhim Sokhorn after the meeting.
However, she said that unless the company meets a list of nine demands drafted by the union they will not agree to negotiate and will go ahead with a December 18 mass protest — which the government asked them to cancel.
Another NagaWorld union activist, Sun Srey Pich, said the ministry had told her group not to demonstrate and urged them to accept compensation because their demands to get their jobs back were untenable.
But a consortium of rights groups said earlier this week 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.
“We are really disappointed and cannot accept the actions of this company, which doesn’t follow the labor law and union law of Cambodia and doesn’t give benefits to workers,” former staff said in a statement.
“If the ministry does not have a suitable solution that can be accepted by the staff the demonstration will go ahead as planned,” Chhim Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, confirmed after the meeting with government.
Khun Tharo, program coordinator at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said the protest was a last resort after the Arbitration Council ruled against the workers in September.
“In the past, unions have tried their best to find a solution by negotiating, filing a complaint to a ministry or the Arbitration Council, but there is no solution yet. This protest is a part of a mechanism to seek one,” he said.
Tharo pointed out that although the casino had been forced to close at times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it had now reopened and was operating normally.
“There is no legal reason for why the company refuses to take them back, but it wants to dissolve the union” entirely, he said.
Touch Kosal, President of the Cambodia Tourism Workers’ Union Federation (CTWUF), agreed.
“To lay-off workers and union activists is incorrect because the union’s structure is recognized by the ministry. If they can lay off workers so easily, why do we have laws? The ministry should take action on this casino,” he said.