Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Laid Off Giant Ibis Bus Drivers Ask Why Resolution Is Taking So Long, Fight Continues For Job, Compensation

Former employees of Giant Ibis Transport stop a bus carrying the passengers during their protest in Phnom Penh on July 1, 2023. (CamboJA./Eung Sea)
Former employees of Giant Ibis Transport stop a bus carrying the passengers during their protest in Phnom Penh on July 1, 2023. (CamboJA./Eung Sea)

Nearly four years have passed since former employees of Giant Ibis passenger transportation were let go during Covid-19 without severance and seniority payments, as they continue to pressure the bus company to either reinstate or compensate them.

The employees, now only 11 compared to a larger group previously, are also urging the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and authorities to solve their issue and get Giant Ibis, a subsidiary of Royal Group Co Ltd, to rehire or compensate them.

Early March this year, the independent union of Giant Ibis submitted a letter to the ministry again, calling for help to restore the workers’ jobs or pay compensation.
The workers have protested against the company almost 20 times since they were dismissed. Recently, independent union president of Giant Ibis Siem Morady said he opposed the ministry’s declaration that their issue was an individual dispute. “This is not an individual dispute. It is a dispute between workers and a company, which violated the labor law.”

Recall that in 2020, 80 bus drivers were made redundant without severance and seniority payment when the company suspended operations during the Covid-19 outbreak. Severance and seniority payments are compulsory under the law.

However, many of the workers have given up the demand, with 11 remaining to fight for justice. A couple or so have been reinstated or received some compensation over the years.

Giant Ibis, which describes itself as Cambodia’s “leading responsible bus company,” was launched by tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group in 2011. It started off with domestic operations in 2012 before expanding to Vietnam and Thailand.

An Australian record names Jacob Monstross as the company’s “founder and managing partner”. The same record also mentions Jacob Monstross as a senior member of Royal Group.

Meanwhile, Labor Ministry spokesperson Katta Orn​​ replied via Telegram that he received a letter from the workers, noting that at present the deputy secretary-general of the Secretariat of the Labor Advisory Committee is “coordinating a settlement mechanism” to resolve the matter.

“If the parties do not reach an agreement, they can file a lawsuit in court because this is an individual dispute,” Orn said.

According to Article 95 of the Labor Law, dismissed workers are given priority to be re-employed to the same position in the same company for two years. In addition, employers are required by the law to pay seniority and severance payments in the event of dismissal. It also states that damages must be paid if the labor contract is terminated abruptly or experiences an abusive breach.

Former bus driver Chan Bunnath, 65 who lives in poor conditions in a rented room, asked the company to resolve their problem and accept him and other employees to work and provide compensation.

“There is no solution for us yet and I have a lot of household expenses including rent. Our family economy is completely dependent on my bus driver job. I hope we can get back to work and get proper compensation from the company.”

Bunnath said the company’s actions, which caused him to lose his “beloved” job and income, has affected his mental health.

“This job as a driver is a career that I love. The actions of the company have completely destroyed my hopes and impacted my daily life. My mental health is also affected because of the loss of income.”

“I request the ministry to review the company’s performance and ensure that they comply with the labor law and ministry guidelines. What happened to us is not fair at all.”
According to Morady, he submitted a letter to the ministry again on March 1, 2024, to request the company to pay compensation and allow the workers to return to work.

“Even if there is still no solution for us, we won’t give up. We will continue to advocate because the legal documents have already been filed.”

A strike was planned, he said, with notification given to the Chroy Changvar district authorities and Phnom Penh City Hall two weeks before the event on March 2 and 3, 2024. However, four days before the strike, the authorities informed the independent union that they would not be allowed to carry out the event as it would disrupt public order. They were instead urged to “wait and see” the ministry’s follow-up action.

“As the employees’ representative, I am requesting a solution from the new government as soon as possible. For the sake of transparency and in all fairness to us, the government should look into the dispute between the employees and Giant Ibis, which violated labor rights in Cambodia,” Morady said.

Ou Phanny, Giant Ibis representative, could not be reached for comment while Royal Group did not respond to questions via email.

Am Sam Ath, operation director of rights group Licadho, said the resolution of the issue has been prolonged. “The longer the problem persists, the more it hurts the staff and leads to despair and loss of trust in the authorities. This is not a good picture, so the issue should be addressed as soon as possible.”

He stated that although this is a labor dispute​, the authorities and stakeholders have to play an important role to find a solution. Because the issue has not been resolved for a long time, the authorities need to push for a resolution.

Sam Ath said there was nothing wrong with organizing a peaceful strike, which is in accordance with the labor law and guaranteed by the Constitution. “It is the right of the workers to strike peacefully. A solution should be offered if the authorities say it is a violation of public order. They should resolve it because I believe that no one wants to strike. So, solve it and end this problem for them.”