Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Three-way NagaWorld negotiations fail to halt mass layoff

Representatives of NagaWorld's workers arrived earlier this month for a meeting at the Ministry of Labour in Phnom Penh. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Representatives of NagaWorld's workers arrived earlier this month for a meeting at the Ministry of Labour in Phnom Penh. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Representatives of the NagaWorld workers’ union said Wednesday that a round of negotiations between staff and management overseen by the the Ministry of Labour has failed to halt the layoff of more than 1,300 workers.

The tripartite meeting came after NagaWorld workers, including union leaders, in April went through an unsuccessful first stage of negotiations with company representatives. Earlier this month, workers filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labour seeking reinstatement of the workers marked for layoff.

The workers’ collective bargaining organization, known as the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), has consistently rejected the plan to cut staff. The union has said all 1,329 workers to be laid off had by May 29 received individual text messages to negotiate their own layoff without LRSU representation.

According to union members who attended the Wednesday negotiations, company management says 70 percent of the workers included in the downsizing have already been laid off, with about 400 workers remaining in the struggle to be reinstated to their jobs.

Chhim Sithar, president of the LRSU, attended the meeting and told CamboJA NagaWorld representatives had said the remaining workers are unionists and union leaders.

“Following the meeting this morning, we have seen the company’s stance to fire staff as their plan,” Sithar said. “To sum it all up, there is no solution to the dispute.”

“The company is violating labour rights and it is unreasonable to lay off more then 1,000 workers. [NagaWorld] has clearly shown it will eliminate the voices of the union,” she said.

Sithar said union representatives had asked Labour Ministry officials during the meeting if NagaWorld’s position constituted a labour rights violation. But she said the officials didn’t answer, instead directing the union to consult relevant laws.

She said another tripartite negotiation will begin June 30.

The NagaWorld casino and hotel company announced on April 8 its intent to cut employees due to the financial impact of the pandemic, which hurt business operations for nearly a year before forcing the temporary closure in March of NagaWorld facilities. Staff members received text notifications from management shortly after the announcement, requesting they begin negotiating their own contract termination.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour declined to elaborate on the outcome of the Wednesday meeting.

“It is the procedure that we need for a couple weeks to have the result of each dispute,” he said.

Online advocacy campaigning

Following the first thwarted negotiation, NagaWorld unionists and other workers began conducting advocacy online to keep their jobs, campaigning by posting on social media pictures of themselves holding banners.

“Who does not suffer because we have been working for the company for many years, and at the end [we] only received a message terminating our contracts from the company,” read a banner. “I worked for a company even with rain, heat, sickness and exhaustion, I dare not to take a day off and finally we were terminated.”

Toy Khengpolrith, 52, is a NagaWorld worker who joined the campaign and told CamboJA employees will continue digital advocacy online until they find a resolution.

“NagaWold told us that they are bankrupt, so they have to reduce staffs, but why are they building Naga 3?” questioned Khengpolrith, referring to the company’s ongoing $4 billion development.   

NagaWorld’s approximately 8,000 total employees had already lost income and benefits due to the effects of the pandemic on the casino. But 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.

Khengpolrith said he wasn’t sure if the union campaign to save jobs would be successful, but that the effort was urging adherence to law and not hurting others.

“We hope that the company will give us jobs again,” he said. “It is hard to find a new job while I am too old.” 

Another worker, Leang Maomanet, 52, was shift manager at NagaWorld before receiving her layoff notice. 

“We believe that the government, civil society groups and relevant partners will help us,” Maomanet said.

“I have been working for the company for about 26 years,” she continued. “I spent nearly half of my life working for the company, and now, when I am challenged a lot due to Covid-19, the company fires me.”  

Khun Tharo, program coordinator at labor rights organization Central, said the procedure to resolve conflict requires officials to interpret the law for both parties to find a common point. In cases when involved parties cannot reconcile, the case must be sent to the Arbitration Council.

“I think that the Labour Ministry should use its power to push employers to obey the law,” Tharo said, adding that, in the past, NagaWorld has not shown intent to resolve the dispute at the Labour Ministry level.

Tharo said if the Arbitration Council cannot take this case, both parties can use their rights under the law to find solutions. Union leaders and employees can hold a strike in line with the law in order to pressure the company to negotiate. Otherwise, Tharo said, NagaWorld may be bypassing the law to dissolve the union and its leaders, including Sithar.

“It will be a bad image if other companies follow this pattern to eliminate unions at the workplace,” Tharo said. (Additional reporting by Sam Sopich)