Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NagaWorld strikers seek Prime Minister’s intervention after failures to resolve dispute

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet official receive a petition from NagaWorld strikers seeking intervention for a protracted labour issue. June 20, 2022. CamboJA/ Sovann Sreypich
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet official receive a petition from NagaWorld strikers seeking intervention for a protracted labour issue. June 20, 2022. CamboJA/ Sovann Sreypich

NagaWorld strikers have petitioned Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly for help in their dispute with the corporation, after 11 meetings mediated by the Ministry of Labor failed to come to a resolution.

On June 20, the strikers submitted their petition with three major requests, according to Chim Sithar, president of the Khmer Employees of Naga World Labor Rights Support Union. The first is for the corporation to reinstate its employees. The second, for it to compensate employees fairly in compliance with labor legislation. And the third is for it to drop charges against 15 union leaders and activists.

“Other institutions have been involved, but no solution has yet been found. I believe the prime minister should have fixed the situation by now,” said Sithar, adding that the Ministry of Labor has failed to address the issue in a transparent and effective manner.

Sithar said that the workers had been urged to just take the money offered, but that they refused and would continue to strike. They were taking a principled stand because such a move would jeopardize their freedom of association, trade unions, and labor rights.

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, did not respond to CamboJA on Monday. He had previously attributed the continued dispute to the two parties for failing to follow proper dispute resolution procedures, saying that it was not due to the ministry’s inefficiency.

Around 9 a.m. on Monday, over 100 strikers had assembled in Wat Botum’s park to deliver a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office. The strikers then planned to make their way to the National Assembly after delivering the petition to cabinet ministers, but were initially prevented by the authorities from doing so, apparently due to concern of public disruption.

“Ten young people can go there, or a member of the national parliament can come here, to receive the petition,” said a government official in civilian clothing who declined to be identified. I don’t want to be against you, but the sidewalk, the side of the road, makes us look incomprehensible even on this walk.”

However, after 30 minutes of negotiating with the authorities on a sweltering day, the strikes were finally allowed to go to the National Assembly to file their petition.

Phnom Penh security guards try to block strikers from marching submit their petition at the National Assembly on June 20, 2022. CamboJA/ Sovann Sreypich

Sor Chamrong, chairman of the Senate Relations Commission on Human Rights in the National Assembly, informed CamboJA that he was unable to resolve the matter.

“I don’t think I have the ability to deal with it,” he said. “It is the Ministry of Labor’s job under the labor law. If they don’t agree, you can always sue them in court.” He also said that there were individuals behind the strike who were causing tensions.

However, he said that his officials had received the strikers’ appeal, and that he and his team will evaluate it according to the correct procedure.

Ou Tep Phallin, president of the Cambodian Federation of Food and Entertainment Workers’ Unions, which oversees the petition process, said that working-class citizens must be able to voice their basic rights and demand that employers respect those rights – in peace.

“We see that the situation in our country is a blindfolded democracy and a blindfolded peace when the working class is once again assaulted,” she remarked, referring to the authorities’ reintroduction of violence.

NagaWorld strikers march to submit their petition at the National Assembly on June 20, 2022. CamboJA/ Sovann Sreypich

Khun Tharo, program manager for the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, claimed that civil society organizations had previously petitioned the National Assembly for intervention in the NagaWorld labor conflict, but to no avail.

“I believe only the prime minister has the power to terminate this labor issue because the Minister of Labor has no influence,” he said.

Because of the Covid-19 crisis, NagaWorld fired 1,329 workers in April 2021, including union officials and staff representatives, according to union records.

In the meantime, 15 labor leaders and activists were charged with instigating civil unrest, though they have been released on bail so far.

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