Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Security guards stop ongoing strikes at Siem Reap hotel

Private security guards block the entrance to Siem Reap's Le Meridien Angkor Hotel, where dozens of staff members have been holding strikes since July. Panha Chhorpoan

Le Meridien Angkor Hotel used private guards to prevent workers from holding a strike in the hotel’s compound on September 28 after a union representing staff filed a complaint to overturn an injunction issued by the Siem Reap Provincial Court to stop the ongoing strikes. 

Ly Linda, president of Le Meridien Angkor Trade Union, said four security guards and one police officer stopped a group of more than 30 members of the hotel’s staff from entering the grounds to hold a strike, which they have been organizing daily for months.

“The hotel used security guards to ban workers from entering the hotel’s compound to strike and the hotel invited those security guards to have lunch in the hotel, so this display is a psychological threat to make employees afraid to come out to join the strike,” Linda said.

Hotel staff have been protesting since July after Le Meridien Angkor terminated three union members who they accused of inciting workers, after the three collected thumbprints asking that staff salaries be reduced by a smaller percentage in the wake of declining tourism due to Covid-19.

Employees have since held demonstrations outside the provincial labor department and the hotel as meetings aiming to resolve the dispute have repeatedly broken down.

“We held the strike for more than two months ago but have seen zero results,” Linda added.

After the interference by security guards, he said workers were forced to protest on the roadside, which they had previously tried to avoid so that the strikes would not be a disturbance to public order.

Workers had continued to strike because hotel management had not renewed the contracts of any of the demonstrating employees, he said, while those who had not joined protests and whose contracts were up for renewal were encouraged to stay on.

The temporary court injunction issued September 15 prohibits further strikes, alleging that workers had blocked the road leading into the hotel’s compound in their previous protests.

“They [management] accused us of striking to block the road but in fact, it did not happen like that,” Linda said.

Hotel management had violated the union members’ right to organize by banning staff from joining the strike and ordering employees to declare whether they sided with employers or the union, he said.

Yada Anukoonpittaya, Le Meridien Angkor’s assistant director of marketing communications, said the hotel had maintained a workplace that is supportive of all employees, and that the private guards had been hired in line with standard safety procedures.

“In regards to the security guards, an injunction order has been issued by the Court which states that no strikes are to be conducted inside or outside the property, as these are illegal activities,” she said in an email. “The hiring of the guards are standard protocols as the hotel continues to provide a peaceful environment to our guests and associates working on the premise.”

The Siem Reap provincial labor department had previously warned the union on August 6 that the strikes were illegal after the department failed to reach an agreement in three-party negotiations held with hotel administrators earlier that month. The department insisted that the case of the three union activists’ terminations should be addressed separately from the dispute about workers wages, which led hotel staff representatives to walk out of the meeting.

The dispute was then sent to the Arbitration Council to solve on August 26. According to hotel management, the council abandoned the case because the union failed to attend discussions that day.

Union leaders said they did not attend because they wanted their case to be heard as a collective dispute, and were concerned that the council would insist on dividing the case as the provincial labor department had done previously. 

Chhin Veasna, 37, who has worked at Le Meridien Angkor for four years, said he had been called to meet with hotel management multiple times since he began joining the strikes, and was threatened with termination in the most recent such meeting.

“They told me that if I continue to join the strikes to help the three women workers, they would finish my contract,” Veasna said. “They called me to sign to agree to terminate my contract on September 7.”

However, he said he did not yet sign the document and was seeking legal assistance. 

Siem Reap Provincial Court Administration Chief Sok Thol declined to comment, saying he was in a meeting.

Court spokesman Yin Srang confirmed the union had filed a complaint against the court’s temporary injunction on September 22.

“The court is processing it, so when the court issues its next decision, if they are not satisfied with that decision, they can continue to appeal to the regional appeal court,” Srang said before declining to provide further details. 

Touch Kosal, president of the Cambodia Tourism Workers’ Union Federation, which Le Meridien Angkor Union is a part of, said the hotel’s recent decision to terminate Veasna was another example of injustice.

“According to information received from the union, Mr Veasna joined the previous strikes with the union, so the hotel was not satisfied with his behavior and they terminated Mr Veasna,” Kosal said. “I think that they will continue to terminate any workers who join the strike.”

“I also received information that now, the hotel side has called in each staff member to question whether they support the hotel or support the union, so this shows their intention to discriminate against the union,” Kosal said.

A Siem Reap city police officer who asked to remain anonymous because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said that the officer who joined the security guards to prevent the Le Meridien Angkor Hotel employees from striking had done so independently. 

“He went there yesterday, but it is not involved with our police officials,” he said.

Siem Reap Provincial Police Chief Tith Narong could not be reached for comment on September 29.