Updated: Union Meets With NagaWorld, Says 252 Workers Want to Be Reinstated

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Members of a casino workers’ union sit near a barricade at a park in front of the NagaWorld casino complex on December 21, 2021. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)
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NagaWorld strike participation swelled to around 1,000 active and laid-off workers Tuesday evening, as the union informed the casino’s management that 252 of 365 terminated workers wanted to be reinstated.

According to meeting minutes provided by labor group Central, the Labor Rights Supported Union’s president Chhim Sithar was asked to present the union’s nine demands, starting with their first demand — addressing  the issue of 365 workers who were yet to accept their terminations and compensation packages. 

Deputy Phnom Penh governor Mean Chanyada called for the company and union to find common points in the dispute, but warned that the strike went against the spirit of a December 17 meeting held between workers and Phnom Penh officials. Hours before their strike began on December 18, the union said it deemed that meeting unsatisfactory because NagaWorld did not attend. 

The morning meeting ended at 10:30 a.m., with the union’s leadership asked to categorize the 365 workers into different lists: those who want their jobs back, those who accepted their termination, and those who were disputing their termination compensation packages calculated by the company’s management. NagaWorld, represented by its human resources director Hein Dames, was also asked to submit a list of workers for verification. 

According to the meeting notes, authorities asked LRSU to discuss the results of the meeting with its members and urged the union to end the strike, but left that decision up to the strike participants. 

In the afternoon, LRSU’s Sithar told the tripartite meeting that 48 workers had confirmed that they wanted termination compensation in line with the Labor Law, 252 workers wanted to be reinstated and that 65 workers could be not contacted.

NagaWorld’s representative Mike Ngai told the meeting that the company was still experiencing a “financial crisis,” according to Central’s notes.

The city, represented by deputy governor Keut Chhe, then requested the Labor Ministry to invite the 365 workers to resolve the case at another meeting on Wednesday. The government also urged NagaWorld to compensate workers who accepted termination and review the status of the 252 workers who wish to be rehired.

“In the event workers and the union do not participate and continue their illegal demonstration activities in a public place, affecting security, safety and public order, [they] shall be responsible before the law,” the minutes of the meeting read.

The union was asked to contact the remaining 65 employees and, once the list was finalized, NagaWorld would present it to its board to make a decision, according to the minutes.

Back outside NagaWorld 1, authorities asked workers to leave the park at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, but workers held out and continued to sing traditional songs and waved their white hats. Striking workers with megaphones initially responded to authorities by saying they would wait until the end of the meeting but eventually ended the day’s strike at 5 p.m. 

Earlier in the day, casino union members resumed the fourth day of their strike against NagaCorp’s alleged labor rights violations and were back at a park in front of NagaWorld 1 casino, as earlier that morning Vietnam’s President Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited late King Norodom Sihanouk’s monument and the National Assembly building during his trip. 

In the morning, a few hundred workers were seated within barricades at the center of the park, circled by district guards. Guards told workers to stay within the barricades, but a few dozen sat in neat rows next to the barricades, saying they wanted to maintain social distance. Strikers were forced by security inside a small barricaded area, which they described as crowded, in front of the National Assembly building on Monday. 

A union member confirmed to VOD that Labor Rights Supported Union president Chhim Sithar and six union organizers, named in a letter from the Phnom Penh governor on Saturday, were meeting with city officials and NagaWorld’s management on Tuesday morning.

Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson on Tuesday released a statement calling out the government for trying to end the labor strike. He also raised concern about attempts by social media users, some government officials and news outlets to paint the strike as a color revolution.

“The authorities’ harassment of strikers’ peaceful picket on the street, supplemented by a rushed legal order brought by a politically controlled court that didn’t take the time to consider the issues before it, shows how far the government is prepared to go to deny these casino workers their rights,” he said in a statement.

Soy Sitha, 36, a table dealer still employed by NagaWorld, said she was not tired and unafraid of the consequences for participating in the strike. She worked only 15 days a month, but Sitha had not shown up for her afternoon shift during the strike.

The job was harder after more than 1,300 of her colleagues were laid off earlier this year, she said, and that it was difficult to take a day off or go to the hospital.

“The company puts pressure on me with more work and more night shifts. Sometimes it’s difficult to go to the bathroom, because there are fewer workers so no one can replace me,” she said. 

As reporters walked away, one strike participant remarked: “It is hot outside, but it’s also hot inside our hearts!”

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