Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

With no solution in sight, NagaWorld strikers seek intervention from embassies

NagaWorld staff submitted a petition to the French embassy seeking intervention in their conflict with management. Picture taken on January 17, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
NagaWorld staff submitted a petition to the French embassy seeking intervention in their conflict with management. Picture taken on January 17, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

About 25 NagaWorld employees began submitting petitions to foreign embassies on Monday seeking help in urging the Cambodian government to resolve their labor dispute and release eight union leaders and representatives now imprisoned on charges of incitement.

Strikers first visited the U.S. embassy, ​​but staff there were on holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The union representatives then continued to the embassies of France, Canada, U.K., Germany, Singapore and the E.U. By Tuesday, the unionists had petitioned 10 embassies representing democratic governments and they will continue to petition four embassies more on Wednesday.

Ouk Sopheakmolika, who avoided the casino company’s mass layoff and is still employed at NagaWorld, was among those who went to the embassies. She said the strikers had exhausted all available options before deciding to begin their action, which on Tuesday marked one month of protest. 

“We have done all available options and we have gone on strike for a month without having a solution, so we have to seek intervention from embassies asking them to help,” Sopheakmolika said.

She added that the strikers are asking these embassies to visit the union leaders, who are currently in pretrial detention, while their relatives and friends are not yet allowed to see them.

The strikers will not submit a petition to the Chinese embassy and others, Sopheakmolika continued, as they only want to reach out to governments that respect human rights and work with international labor rights organizations.

NagaWorld strikers submitted a petition to the U.S. embassy seeking support for their cause, but staff there were on holiday. Picture taken on January 17, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

With those criteria, the strikers will continue to petition other embassies in Cambodia hoping they will lobby the government on their behalf.

The strikers have centered their protest on a set of nine demands, the most important of which have been the recalculation of severance pay for some laid-off workers and the reinstatement of some 300 holdouts who have refused their termination. 

Civil society groups have noted the Ministry of Labor has not addressed reinstatement but has taken to repeating an announcement that it will calculate severance pay for accuracy.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment either by phone or Telegram. NagaWorld management also did not respond to a request for comment.

Has Rithyratana, 34, has been working for nine years as a dealer at the NagaWorld casino and was also among the group petitioning embassies. Rithyratana said 1,000 strikers, including both those who are still employed as well as others who were laid off, decided to thumbprint the petition. 

Rithyratana said the strikers had not seen what they regarded as an acceptable solution from the Ministry of Labor, and that the NagaWold management had not yet been open to negotiation. With that in mind, she said, the strikers chose to petition.

I am hoping that they [embassies] will closely follow up on the dispute between NagaWorld and its employees and urge them to solve the problem soon,” she said.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of the rights group Licadho, told CamboJA that seeking intervention from embassies is the workers’ right after months of attempted negotiations and now a month of strikes has yielded no solutions.

“The NagaWorld employees’ strike is justified and their request is no different from what they have done in the past,” he said. “They do not trust, and despair of the result. If they think a side can help them, it is their right to seek intervention – it is not illegal.”

Others in civil society have also lent their support to the strikers.

Seng Theary, the Khmer-American human rights activist currently included in the mass trial of political opposition members and supporters, expressed on Saturday her admiration for the strikers’ dedication.

“I really admire the strikers who are mostly women that have gone on strike for a month with their courage and bravery in the understanding of their rights,” she wrote on Facebook. “The world is now standing with NagaWorld’s staff and other suffering strikers.”