Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NagaWorld to partially reopen as workers await financial support

A view of NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh on July 3. Panha Chhorpoan

NagaWorld is set to partially reopen this week after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that casinos nationwide may restart operations, but only some of its staff will return to work with thousands still demanding emergency funding support.

Casino management and worker representatives met on July 6 to discuss the reopening set for July 8, and to address requests for monetary support made by casino employees last month.

Chhim Sithar, 32, president of NagaWorld’s Khmer Employees’ Labor Rights Support Union said that in the meeting, NagaWorld had updated the union about the agreement made between the company and the Health Ministry regarding opening procedures aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. However, she said no agreement was reached during the meeting regarding financial support.

She noted that NagaWorld representatives had said they were not sure how many staff members would return to work yet, but that only VIP gambling areas and some hotel rooms would open.

“Nagaworld announced that they will reopen on July 8 at around 11am with some restaurants and VIP gambling,” she said, adding that she was informed a total of 300 hotel rooms would also open at NagaWorld 1 and 2. The NagaWorld resort has a total of more than 1,500 rooms.

Sithar said that since the casino and resort had closed in line with a government order issued in March, more than 3,000 of NagaWorld’s roughly 9,000 employees had signed a petition asking the company to provide 30 percent of their salary and allow all staff to borrow 20 percent more if they choose. That 20 percent would then be taken out of their wages once they have returned to work. She also said the petition asked for all holiday pay to be provided in advance.

“Last week, we requested the company continue to provide seniority payments for us but the company did not respond,” Sithar said. “They promised that they will provide information this week regarding our other requests.”

In June, casino workers had previously petitioned the Labor Ministry because they had not been given the $40 monthly allotment provided to workers in other sectors hit hard by Covid-19.

According to Sithar, NagaWorld workers have yet to receive a response from the ministry.

NagaWorld administration officials declined to comment on June 6.

On July 3, Hun Sen announced in a Council of Ministers meeting that he would allow for the gradual reopening of all casinos nationwide.

The prime minister said all casino owners would be required to sign MoU with the Health Ministry or provincial health department detailing measures they must follow during the reopening process to keep workers and guests safe from Covid-19.

Hay Sopheap, a representative for NagaWorld’s Khmer employees unionsaid by phone that she also did not know how many employees would return to work this week, but that her own name was not included on the list.

“We are still requesting that the company help our workers because we are still facing difficulties making a living,” Sopheap said.

She noted that most staff were struggling with debt, unable to make loan payments after going months without an income.

“The most important issue for us is that of bank or microfinance repayments because most of our workers have borrowed money from banks or MFIs,” Sopheap said.

Ros Phearun, deputy director of the Finance Ministry’s finance and industry department, which deals with casinos, said that he expects all casinos will begin to take the necessary measures to reopen safely.

“I want to confirm that when Samdech [Hun Sen] announces a green light like this, for the casinos that want to reopen, I believe they will follow the conditions that are required of them,” Phearun said, adding that so far, NagaWorld had been the only casino to submit a request to reopen.

Phearun said that before Covid-19 had led to the closure of casinos and other entertainment venues in late March, there were 118 casinos in operation nationwide with a total of more than 20,000 staff in Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk province, Poipet city, and provinces along Cambodia’s international borders.

He added that based on the ministry’s estimates, Cambodia would lose $50 million in tax obligation payments from casinos in 2020 due to Covid-19.

“We are preparing [to reopen casinos] based on procedures following the government’s announcement on July 3 to reopen,” Phearun said.  

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine declined to comment on Monday. 

Ou Tepphallin, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF), said that although the July 3 Council of Ministers statement allowed for the reopening of casinos and restaurants, KTVs were still not permitted to open as workers continue to struggle.

“We still request the government provide a $40 budget for KTV workers because they have been facing difficulties with their living expenses,” Tepphallin said.

She noted that like the casino employees, KTV workers had also submitted a petition to the prime minister’s cabinet last month asking that the government provide them with $40 emergency support funding. She said CFSWF had yet to receive a response.