NagaWorld Dispute: Workers Defy Leaders and Continue Protest, New Union Appears

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A district security guard blocks a journalist covering the NagaWorld casino labor dispute on March 15, 2022. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)
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Amid new turns in the long-running NagaWorld labor dispute on Tuesday, workers simply continued their protests, landing 166 of them once again in brief Covid-19 quarantine.

They said they had not heard from their union leaders who were released from prison late Monday after asking the protesters to stop demonstrations while they resumed negotiations.

The strikers were also in the dark about a new union apparently announced inside the Phnom Penh casino.

Instead, they would merely keep up their daily labor actions until they received their demands, they said.

“We will keep demanding,” said protester Phat Channa, adding that 166 workers were again forced onto buses and taken to a Prek Pnov quarantine center. “I’ll keep striking.”

Demonstrations began in December over mass layoffs that workers say targeted union leaders and members. Eleven unionists were jailed amid near-daily rallies over almost three months.

But eight of the jailed unionists, including union president Chhim Sithar, were released from prison late Monday after making surprise bail requests calling for a suspension of protests while negotiations resumed.

Three other unionists still in jail also had requests to be released published online by pro-government Fresh News on Tuesday.

But protesters said they had not heard from the released unionists. Sithar told VOD on Tuesday she was too busy to speak to reporters, while the other released unionists could not be reached.

Meanwhile, a document registering a new union at the Phnom Penh casino was widely circulated among workers.

Heng Sour, Labor Ministry spokesman, said the document was real. “This is the truth,” Sour said.

However, a NagaWorld human resources officer said she knew nothing. A man who answered a call to the department passed a reporter to his boss, who only gave her name as “Cheng.”

“Actually, we do not have any information about this yet,” Cheng said.

Dealer Som Sreyleak, who returned to work at the casino on March 9 after months of protesting, said she didn’t know about the new union either.

“The information isn’t so clear,” Sreyleak said. But she would stay with the existing union, she said.

She added that after striking for nearly three months, she couldn’t afford to continue striking.

The registration of the new union lists Heng Sophini, Cheang Saovara and Tang Sreytouch as founding officers. None of the NagaWorld workers spoken to on Tuesday knew who they were or could provide contact details.

In a statement, the government said there would be negotiations on Wednesday.

“A ministry is working to mediate to find a solution to this labor dispute. Both sides will be invited to a meeting for a solution in the afternoon of March 16, 2022,” it said.

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