Around 400 NagaWorld workers continued their peaceful strike on Thursday, despite the recent arrests of union president Chhim Sithar and more than two dozen workers and unionists.
“NagaWorld has to solve the problem. We are carrying out no violence and staying here under rain and heat for all our interests,” said a striker holding a megaphone. “Arresting union leaders is not a solution.”
Sithar was violently arrested as she stepped out of her car Tuesday. On Wednesday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sent her to pretrial detention on incitement charges, saying she led illegal strikes that disturbed public order, according to court spokesman Y Rin. Another six unionists including activist Sok Narith were also sent to pre-trial detention while unionist Sok Kong Kea was released on bail. All were also charged with incitement.
Some 17 NagaWold workers arrested at the protest on Monday were released from police custody earlier this week after signing contracts vowing to stop participating in the strike.
Ky Chamroeun, a dealer at the casino who was released from police custody Tuesday night, said that the workers had little choice but to sign the document.
“The contract has banned us from joining [the strike], and I think it has put pressure and restrictions on our rights,” she said.
“We are holding the strike to follow the law, but they have accused us [of behaving] illegally.”
Chamroeun said that police didn’t ask many questions of the detainees but mostly wanted to know who led the strike.
“We answered that we have voluntarily done it ourselves because there is injustice at the workplace,” she said.
Following a layoff of more than 1300 workers, NagaWorld employees have been striking since late November. Among their demands is the reinstatement of 365 holdouts and proper severance pay for those who were laid off.
The unionists are also demanding the company provide seniority bonuses and remuneration in accordance with the law for this year and last, as well as a 7% raise on the current base salary to meet the inflation of market price. Among other issues, the nine demands also include a call for NagaWorld to stop exploiting workers under the premise of internships.
As arrests have mounted, workers are also calling for the release of their union representatives.
The Ministry of Labor on Thursday issued a letter saying laid off workers could get their final payments, including seniority and other benefits, starting Friday — though the measure falls far short of workers demands.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, said workers had the right to strike and protest and that the contracts police had forced them to sign upon release were illegal.
“The prohibition [of citizens’ participation] violates human rights because they have held a peaceful strike which has been allowed by the [labor] law,” he said.
He said that protests will likely continue if authorities can’t address the root cause of the workers’ demands.
“Violently arresting or releasing them attached with the contract conditions isn’t a method to end the labor dispute, but, on the contrary, there will be criticism of labor rights violation,” Sam Ath said. “The significant issue is to resolve labor conflict,”
Phnom Penh Municipal police chief Sar Thet and his subordinate San Sok Seiha could not be reached for comment