Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NagaWorld workers awaiting official termination notice as union fight to halt layoffs

The NagaWorld casino and hotel complex as seen in Phnom Penh, May 25, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
The NagaWorld casino and hotel complex as seen in Phnom Penh, May 25, 2021. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Executives of the sprawling NagaWorld casino complex are moving ahead with plans to lay off 1,329 workers despite protests from the casino’s labor union, which is accusing management of using COVID-19 as a pretext to fire union members.

The casino giant announced on April 8 its intent to cut employees due to the impacts of  the pandemic, which impacted business operations for nearly a year before forcing the temporary closure in March of NagaWorld facilities. This week, after a handful of staff members received text notifications from management, workers are finally expecting to see official notices informing them of their termination.

The workers’ collective bargaining organization, known as the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), issued a statement on Tuesday rejecting the layoff plan, which was made without LRSU input.

“The plan to lay off staff is intended to discriminate against and eliminate the voices of the union at the workplace similar to what company did in the past,” the union letter read, pointing to what it described as targeted layoffs in 2009.

Since April 2020, the union notice read, NagaWorld’s approximately 8,000 employees have lost income and benefits due to the effects of the pandemic on the casino. While some employees agreed to reduce their working hours and take home less pay, the company continued to turn a profit. In its latest financial report, NagaWorld posted $102 million in profits for 2020, down from $521 million earned the year prior.

Though NagaWorld profitability may be down, the LRSU statement pointed out the effects of a layoff will have a personal impact on people who have struggled through the pandemic era without the deep resources of Cambodia’s largest casino company.

“We are saddened that the NagaWorld company rejected the request of thousands of workers asking to halt the plan to lay off workers,” it read.

The LRSU also said a handful of workers were texted by company representatives to discuss their pending termination contract individually, without union representation. The LRSU has requested the government, primarily the Ministry of Labour, to intervene.

Nop Tithboravy, 38, received a text message on Monday from a company representative inviting her to meet the next day to discuss her release contract.

“I replied that I will not unless a union representative comes along with me,” she said, receiving no response from the other end.  “I need a union representative to accompany me because I do not know whether the termination contract is fair or not.”

She said the company had previously told workers that if they didn’t meet with NagaWorld representatives before May 28, casino management would go ahead and fire them anyway.

Tithboravy has worked in the food and beverage side of NagaWorld for more than 10 years and said the COVID-19 crisis had brought her financial hardship. After the company reopened operations in July last year, she had been on a rotational schedule that had some workers receiving a daily wage while on-shift for only one or two weeks a month.

“I worked for six days and they only paid those days, so it was hard to have insufficient income like a full salary,” she said.

That tightened even further in March when the casino closed after some employees there tested positive for COVID-19. Workers received 40 percent of their base salary for March and April and were told they’d receive the same for May.

“For a person who has a high salary, it was enough to get 40 percent but for those who have less of a salary, they only received about $20-30,” she said.

“We were still challenged when we had a full salary, and then we received less,” Tithboravy said, listing her regular living expenses, including some significant bank debt requiring payments of $300 per month.

Though her bank agreed to delay payments following the temporary suspension of her job, a layoff would still throw a major complication into her life.

“I was disappointed when I received a message from the company saying that they will terminate my contract,” she told CamboJA. “The bank debt and termination — how can I handle those issues?”

“I disagree with the termination because I need to keep a job, because it isn’t reasonable that the company would layoff workers while we are suffering from the COVID-19 [crisis] while the company is not challenged by bankruptcy,” Tithboravy said.

Another worker, Nhan Davy, 36, said she also refused to meet with the company after receiving a text. She’d been asked to meet on May 21 to discuss termination, but said union leaders were excluded from the meeting. Afraid to lose whatever benefits are owed to her in a layoff, Davy said she couldn’t attend without representation.

“It is an injustice for us that the company would do layoffs in these circumstances because I’ve worked there for more than 10 years with no mistakes,” she said.

Davy has a role as a junior floor supervisor and has felt a similar impact as Tithboravy from COVID-19, pointing to difficulties in supporting her livelihood. She was temporarily suspended from work after the ongoing viral outbreak began on February 20.

Chhun Sokha, vice president of NagaWorld’s LRSU, said union leaders have not been able to find a compromise with casino management, noting company representatives remain determined to terminate employees.

“We will stand up together to advocate with the NagaWorld company, and we will appeal to the Labour Ministry regarding this decision,” Sokha said.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour told CamboJA in a brief message Tuesday that the ministry will continue to follow procedures of the labor dispute but declined to explain further.

Naga World human resources manager Hein Dames didn’t respond to a request for comment. The company’s initial April 8 notice of intent stated NagaWorld plans to lay off staff in order to stabilize business but will follow labor laws related to the termination including measures of indemnity, seniority payment and other compensation.

In June of last year, more than 200 NagaWorld employees submitted a petition at the Labour Ministry to request a stimulus payment of $40 per month as entertainment venues remain 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 that casinos nationwide may restart operations at that time. However, not all NagaWorld staff will return to work, with thousands still demanding emergency funding support.

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