Striking Cambodian workers demand release of union leaders

NagaWorld employees will not join talks until their representatives are freed, they say.

Striking workers at a casino and hotel in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh say they will not enter talks to end their protest until union leaders are released from jail, sources said on Monday.

The strike at the NagaWorld casino and hotel, now in its 23rd day, has drawn hundreds of workers since Dec. 18 and the dismissal by managers of more than a thousand employees. The protesters are demanding that 365 of those laid off be rehired.

In a petition submitted to Cambodia’s Labor Ministry on Monday, workers said that they would not participate in talks to resolve the dispute until eight union leaders were freed from jail.

Among those now held is Chhim Sithar, leader of the union at the NagaWorld casino, who was taken into custody by police in plain clothes on Jan. 4. She was surrounded by police as she got out of a car at the protest site near Cambodia’s National Assembly building.

Striking worker Men Sothy Wathanak, 30, told RFA that before their arrest that union representatives had repeatedly asked Cambodia’s Labor Ministry to provide them with the formula used to calculate workers’ compensation, but that ministry officials had failed to do so.

However, after union leaders were arrested, the ministry reversed its position, admitted that compensation had not been fairly calculated in the past and invited workers to join them in talks to end the dispute, she said.

“But we have now lost the union leaders who could speak for us in those talks,” she said. “We call on the authorities to first release our eight representatives so that we can return to negotiations.”

While workers held a press conference on Monday to announce their petition, Ou Ratana — a ministry official in charge of resolving labor disputes — came out of the ministry building to invite workers inside for talks.

“We need to sit face to face to resolve this dispute, not by staging strikes like this,” he said.

Workers remained firm in demanding their representatives’ release, however.

Khun Thao, a labor rights program manager for the workers’ advocacy group Central, blamed the ministry for its failure to resolve the NagaWorld strike now entering its fourth week.

“I see that the Labor Ministry still wants to trick these workers, dividing them by considering their cases individually rather than as a collective dispute,” he said.

“The ministry has yet to respond to the union’s demand for the reinstatement of its leaders, and is just focusing on the issue of the proper calculation of compensation. I think that this will only cause a deadlock, and the dispute won’t be resolved,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.


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