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NagaWorld Strikers in Ongoing Labor Dispute Deliver New Petition to Labor Ministry

Around 30 members of the LRSU gathered at the Ministry of Labor to deliver a petition to solve their ongoing labor dispute on March 6, 2024. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)
Around 30 members of the LRSU gathered at the Ministry of Labor to deliver a petition to solve their ongoing labor dispute on March 6, 2024. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

Members of LRSU, the NagaWorld workers union, delivered a petition Wednesday to the Labor Ministry urging officials to intervene and meet with members to find a solution to their ongoing labor dispute with the casino. 

“We are facing injustice, that is why we came here to demand justice,” said NagaWorld striker Seak Kannha. “Please don’t paint us in a bad light, we are not strikers who get paid by anyone.”

Kannha, who worked at the casino for over 13 years, said the mechanisms for solving labor disputes are unfair and leave workers to suffer from mass lay-offs without proper solutions. She views the Labor Ministry as serving a parental role for workers, and therefore expects that the ministry should not leave workers behind when they face problems.

“The ministry accepts our petitions most of the time, but they accept it without providing a solution in return. This time I hope our petition will have some results,” she said.

The labor dispute at the major Phnom Penh casino began after the company laid off 1,329 employees in late April 2021. The company claimed it had financial issues due to the Covid-19 crisis, but laid-off employees saw the action as a way to crack down on independent union organizing by workers.  

LRSU’s Wednesday statement argues that the mass layoff was not in accordance with Cambodian law, despite the company claiming that it was legal. The union claimed that the Labor Ministry of Labor has misused its power and has interfered in union affairs. It urged the ministry to remain neutral in resolving labor disputes, acting in an ethical and transparent manner.

“We see that there is no justice system that gives justice to unions and workers,” the letter states, adding that untrue stories have been circulating about the strikers that have caused even more injustice for union members.  

The NagaWorld union members, who say they are committed to non-violent striking, have faced violence and harassment from the authorities. Union leaders have also been arrested and union leader Chhim Sithar was sent to prison for two years. 

In June 2022, the company announced that it would freeze union contributions, citing a letter from the Labor Ministry’s dispute department as justification. The company called employees who are LRSU members to a meeting on February 16, 2024 and set conditions that all employees must write a letter of resignation from the union and request to withdraw their union contributions.

LRSU has continued to urge the Labor Ministry to intervene and order NagaWorld to return the deducted contributions to the union. In its Wednesday statement, the union requested that the ministry consider that the actions taken by the company are not in line with labor law. 

LRSU vice president Chhim Sokhon said she expects the Labor Ministry to solve the dispute after she submitted the petition.

“The representatives from the ministry accepted our petition and said they will submit it to the minister, but did not mention the solution or make any promises to us,” she said. 

Sokhon noted that the company laid off hundreds of workers supposedly due to a financial crisis, but has since announced it is hiring more staff. She wants to go back to work and hopes the company will accept the LRSU workers again. 

From her perspective, the union cannot sue the company in court because Cambodia does not have a labor court. Plus, the workers do not have the funds to sue, she said. 

Labor Ministry spokesperson Katta Orn said via telegram that the ministry has tried so far to solve the dispute according to the law twice and sent this case to the arbitration advisory council. The council already issued an order and facilitated with them 27 times but the issue has not been resolved, he said. 

“They [the union workers] did not listen to the order made by the arbitration advisory and came out to protest and strike. This case is under the authority of the arbitration council solving all strikes and protests,” he said. 

Orn encouraged the strikers to sue the company in court. He claimed that the Labor Ministry has tried its best to solve the dispute but said the dispute is no longer under the authority of the ministry because it has been sent to arbitration. 

“The [Labor Ministry’s] strike commission can continue to mediate when there is a request from both sides to end the conflict. The Ministry works in accordance with the law to ensure compliance with labor laws, union laws and related laws to ensure legal rights and benefits for workers and employers,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, operations director for the human rights NGO Licadho, said that this labor dispute has become like a chronic disease that needs an urgent solution from the Labor Ministry and the government.

“This labor dispute has received a lot of criticism from the international community. The government should work together to resolve the NagaWorld dispute as soon as possible without further delay,” he said.

Sam Ath argued that the new government should find a solution quickly because the lengthy dispute and the jailing of a union leader will affect the government’s image.