NagaWorld Union Alleges Layoffs Target Organized Workers

4 min read
Masked guards stand at the front of Naga 2 in Phnom Penh on March 1, 2021, amid a boycott by thousands of staff after some said they tested positive for Covid-19. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

NagaWorld has begun its proposed layoffs of 1,329 total workers, according to the casino’s union, which also alleges that long-serving union members are bearing the brunt of the cutbacks.

NagaWorld’s 3,000-strong union said in a statement on Tuesday that many of the employees who have been told they would be laid off were active union members who were a part of recruiting and organizing events. Among those losing their jobs were also pregnant union members and those who had just given birth, the statement said.

The statement claimed that NagaCorp had chosen to expel workers who have been there for longer over cutting newer employees who were not union members, and said this was a violation of the Labor Law’s Article 95.

“This planned layoff is done with the intention to discriminate and destroy the union’s voice in the workplace, just as the company has been doing since 2009,” the statement said.

Chhim Sithar, the union’s president, told VOD last week she had heard from about 100 staff members who were told that they were being laid off between May 17 and 21.

She questioned NagaCorp’s need for layoffs, saying the company had still made millions of dollars in profit during the Covid-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and business closures.

“We see that the company does not have enough reasons and has not had a serious economic impact [from pandemic] until [this round of] layoffs, but we see that it starts from the image of employee discrimination, especially those who are active in protesting for salaries, demanding benefits during the Covid time.”

NagaCorp said in its recent shareholder disclosures that it was “optimistic” for recovery after reporting $102.3 million in net profit last year. The company earned more than $521.3 million in net profits in 2019, riding off a 20 percent increase in gross gaming revenue to $1.7 billion and 31 percent growth in VIP spending to $46.6 billion.

The company announced to shareholders two weeks ago that it had reopened its duty-free mall on May 13 while the rest of the casino complex remained closed.

The layoffs would take place over five or six weeks, Sithar said, focused on slot-machine, money-handling and hotel housekeeping staff, whose jobs were not in demand during the pandemic. Sithar added that the union was filing a complaint to the Labor Ministry after attempting to negotiate with the company staff failed.

Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said ministry representatives were handling the case in line with the reconciliation process but would not comment further.

According to the union, NagaCorp management announced to its employees on April 14 that the company would lay off 1,329 workers due to declining revenue, with plans to dismiss workers between April 19 and 24, but the layoff period was delayed as Phnom Penh City Hall enforced a citywide lockdown.

NagaCorp said in its last annual report that staff salaries and benefits in 2020 cost $105 million.

Mike Ngai, the company’s chief operating officer, declined to comment. NagaCorp has this year also not answered inquiries on its financial performance, the layoff announcement, a Covid-19 outbreak affecting Naga 2 casino guests and staff, concerns from the Culture Ministry and Unesco over the company’s “Angkor Lake of Wonder” plans, and its CEO’s newly-acquired Cambodian citizenship.

Hay Sopheap, a card dealer at Naga 2, said she was not sure if she was on the layoff list, but the worker, who has been employed by the company for 13 years, rejected the decision to leave any employees jobless during the pandemic.

“I refuse the layoff, do not accept this condition from the company,” she said last week. “In other words, we deny it and don’t want to know how [the company] would pay or calculate the money to [compensate] the staff, or when they have our names on the list [to be laid off].”

Sean Metta, another card dealer, said NagaCorp had agreed to pay benefits during the company’s Covid-19 closures, but the amount the workers received for seniority pay and mental health benefits did not align with calculations under the Labor Law.

Metta, a nine-year NagaWorld employee, said the bigger threat was laying off workers in the middle of a pandemic, when they would struggle to find jobs.

The union’s statement also noted the layoffs would strain the government’s budget by destroying a source of income for many families: “This planned layoff will add to the responsibilities of the Royal Government which is currently struggling against Covid-19, because this plan will significantly increase the number of unemployed individuals although NagaWorld is capable of retaining the employment of its staff.”

Additional reporting by Danielle Keeton-Olsen

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