Around 20 former employees of the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra protested their dismissals in August outside the Labor Ministry on Tuesday, alleging that the hotel had not compensated them fairly or in compliance with the Labor Law.
The 20 workers were representing a total of 53 workers from the hotel who were laid off at the end of their contracts on August 1 because of reduced tourist arrivals in the country, on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers allege that the hotel had not fairly compensated them or paid their dues.
Phat Saruon, a member of the Independent Solidarity Union at the hotel, said the terminated workers had filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor hoping that it would be sent to the Arbitration Council, but that no action had been taken so far.
“Our purpose is to submit the petition to the labor minister to help send the complaint to the Arbitration Council to decide on our conflict,” said Saruon, outside the ministry.
The worker said the hotel had paid them their last salaries, indemnity payments, pay in lieu of outstanding leave and notice compensation, but that other payments and benefits were still owed to them, such as payments for night shifts etc.
Saruon said that 53 workers had been let go after their contracts ended and other workers had quit their jobs, bringing the hotel’s staff count from 380 to 250 workers.
Saruon informed CamboJA that the hotel had invited workers for a meeting on Wednesday.
CamboJA could not reach Sofitel human resources manager Sam Sorphea and the hotel did not respond to requests for comment.
Chea Sony, 45, a chef who had worked at the hotel for almost ten years, said that he and his colleagues had been terminated at the end of their contracts, but that they had not been compensated fairly.
He said staff had been paid between $200 and $1,000, but that this was not adequate based on the Labor Law.
“If the hotel based [compensation] on the Labor Law, I should receive more than $1,000 but the hotel paid me around $900,” Sony said.
Nin Vannak, the deputy secretary-general of the Committee for the Resolution of Strikes at the Labor Ministry, said he had received the workers’ petition and that he had forwarded it to Labor Minister Ith Samheng. He urged them patience while the issue was investigated.
“I request the [protesters] to please keep quiet and wait to receive a positive result soon in the future,” he said, asking them to refrain from protests on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added that he was unaware why the issue had not been forwarded to the Arbitration Council when workers had submitted a complaint for the first time.
Touch Kosal, president of the Cambodia Tourism Workers’ Union Federation, also said it was unclear why the Department of Labor Conflicts had not forwarded the complaint to the Arbitration Council when employees submitted their complaint in August.
He said the Arbitration Council should investigate and resolve the issue.
“If the Arbitration Council decides it’s a win for employees, the hotel must pay [workers] according to the law. But, if the Arbitration Council decides that employees should not receive any more benefits then they will respect the Arbitration Council’s decision,” he said.
He said finding a quick resolution to the issue would ensure that workers do not have to protest again.
The tourism sector has taken the biggest hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, with international tourist arrival dropping 98 percent in the second quarter and 40 percent in the first quarter of 2020. The government has committed to paying laid off tourism workers, though advocates say this money has not been evenly disbursed.
Song Tonghap, secretary of state at Tourism Ministry, posted in early November on the ministry’s official Facebook page that there had been an 80 percent drop in international arrivals and 50 percent reduction in domestic travel, resulting in a loss of $3 billion. This had affected a third of tourism-related businesses and close to 51,000 job losses.
In a separate case involving hotel staff, workers at the Le Meridien Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap are still demanding that hotel management reinstate three union representatives who they say were unfairly terminated in July.
Kham Sreypheak, one of the terminated unionists, said workers had continued to hold sporadic protests calling for reinstatement of the fired employees.
“We do not hold a strike everyday but we strike some days a week,” Sreypheak said.
The three activists with the Le Meridien Angkor Trade Union — Doeum Chhaya, Sok Naren and Kham Sreypheak — were terminated for allegedly inciting workers via Facebook to push back against salary reductions. Employees have since held demonstrations outside the provincial labor department and the hotel as meetings aiming to resolve the dispute have repeatedly broken down.