Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NagaWorld union files complaint to Labour Ministry asking casino execs to stop mass layoff

Representatives of NagaWorld staff submitted a petition Tuesday to the Labour Ministry to reinstate some 1,300 workers from the casino company who have received a layoff notice. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Representatives of NagaWorld staff submitted a petition Tuesday to the Labour Ministry to reinstate some 1,300 workers from the casino company who have received a layoff notice. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

NagaWorld workers, including top leaders of the company’s union, have officially filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour seeking intervention as casino management pushes ahead with the mass layoff of more than 1,300 workers.

The layoffs amount to a cut of almost one-sixth of the total workforce of roughly 8,000 at the casino giant following its April 8 announcement of the downsizing, which executives said was due to the impacts of the pandemic. The global rise of the novel coronavirus hurt business operations at the casino complex for nearly a year before forcing the temporary closure in March of NagaWorld facilities after some employees there tested positive for COVID-19.

Last month, the workers’ collective bargaining organization, known as the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), rejected the layoff plan, which was made without union input. On Tuesday, five representatives of the LRSU submitted a petition bearing about 2,000 thumbprints of union members to the Labour Ministry to protest the layoff.

The complaint, obtained by CamboJA, demanded five points — first, to halt the layoff of workers, stop the intimidation of staff by summoning them to speak individually about their termination and to provide proper seniority payments for those who do lose their jobs. The petition then demanded properly calculated indemnity pay as stipulated by law and for NagaWorld to follow measures set by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Chhun Sokha, LRSU vice president, said the employees who have been notified of their termination will continue making their demands until reaching a resolution. Company management has, so far, cut the union out of negotiated termination settlements, and Sokha noted that all 1,329 workers to be laid off had by May 29 received individual text messages to negotiate their own layoff without union representation.

“The thumbprints that we have collected came from staffers of NagaWorld because they disagreed with the layoff of employees,” she said, arguing that it is unreasonable for the casino company to justify the cut as due to weak performance during COVID-19 while still reporting profits, and especially while the $4 billion Naga 3 project is still under construction.

“In case the Labour Ministry cannot find a compromise on the dispute, we will continue our complaint with the Arbitration Council,” Sokha said.

The LRSU has proved an effective organizing group in the past, including in 2019 when members successfully fought the termination of union President Chhim Sithar — who is now included among the number expecting a layoff.

In June of last year, more than 200 NagaWorld employees submitted a petition to the Labour Ministry to request a monthly stimulus payment of $40 as entertainment venues remained closed in a bid to contain the spread of COVID-19.

NagaWorld is set to partially reopen its casinos in July after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced gambling centers nationwide may restart operations at that time. However, not all NagaWorld staff will return to work, with thousands still demanding emergency funding support.

From casino management, neither COO Mike Ngai nor human resources manager Hein Dames responded to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Nin Vannak, deputy general secretary of the Labour Ministry’s committee for strike and demonstration resolution, confirmed to CamboJA that the ministry has received the workers’ complaint.

“I am not clear yet [on the ministry response] but I will speed up on that issue,” he said, adding that experts are now working on it.

Vannak said the ministry is working now to help curb the spread of COVID-19 but didn’t comment further on the NagaWorld dispute.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said in a message that the ministry will be following its conflict resolution procedures after receiving the complaint.

“We can do nothing besides following procedure, no matter what the conflict is, they can’t be judged immediately,” he said.

According to the law, Sour added, companies have the right to expand and reduce staff based on the economic situation, as long as they follow legal guidelines in terminating contracts. 

LRSU activist Hay Sopheap, 33, is one of the workers now expecting a layoff after receiving a text message from management. She has worked as a gaming supervisor for 14 years at the NagaWorld complex and told CamboJA she hopes the Labour Ministry will intervene to help settle the dispute.

“I am protesting the plan to lay off staffers, as the company is not following the law for workers who have been agreeing to terminate their contracts,” she said, pointing to employee claims the company has improperly calculated severance pay based on indemnity and seniority.