In a rare public statement amid ongoing protests, NagaWorld denied accusations that it targeted union employees as part of mass layoffs last year that have led to a monthlong strike by casino workers and the arrests of senior union leaders and members.
The LRSU casino workers’ union has been on strike since December 18, with near-daily protests in central Phnom Penh advocating for the reinstatement of fired employees or fair compensation packages for those willing to accept termination.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has ruled the strike illegal and ordered the detention of nine LRSU members, one of whom was released on bail. The nine are facing incitement charges for conducting an illegal demonstration.
NagaWorld’s Khmer-language statement was posted by government-aligned Fresh News, and could not be obtained directly from NagaCorp on Monday.
The statement defends the company’s decision to lay off workers because of financial losses linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The casino laid off more than 1,300 workers, most of whom accepted compensation packages. Close to 400 workers have rejected the packages, of which more than 200 have asked to be reinstated.
NagaWorld also denied cherry picking union members for termination, claiming that union membership had only dropped from 47 percent to 42 percent after the layoffs.
“The company has been very committed to protecting the interests and rights of its employees and has always encouraged and emphasized the need for employees to form unions since its inception in 1995,” the statement reads.
According to the International Trade Union Confederation, 1,100 of 1,329 laid-off workers were union members.
NagaWorld has been largely silent since the rallies began in December. The company has not commented on the arrests of 10 union members in a late-night crackdown on New Year’s Eve, or the arrests of 17 unionists a few days later. Twenty-one of those unionists were released.
LRSU leader Chhim Sithar was then violently arrested on January 4, when two other union affiliates also turned themselves into police. The casino workers’ union has now added the release of all detained unionists as a precondition to returning to the negotiating table.
NagaWorld executive Mike Ngai declined to comment on Monday.
Striking workers, who were back protesting on Monday afternoon, were not convinced by NagaWorld’s claims of being pro-union.
Kang Phari, who was at the protest, was surprised that NagaWorld was claiming it was supportive of the union and its members.
“The company encourages unions? Then why do they not solve this? In simple language, they want to make people think that they love their staff and take care of everything, but the truth is the opposite,” Phari said.
In 2019, the union also launched a two-day strike to demand the reinstatement of Sithar who had been suspended by the casino company.
Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said the government would continue to negotiate with the workers and casino. He was also dismissive of workers’ who were skeptical of NagaWorld’s intentions and commitment to resolve the issue.
“That is his or her opinion, no one can force their opinion,” he said. “What we can say is based on facts and comparisons and the nature of each business as well as each of their economic activity.”