The union at Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino has extended its leadership election for two days to try to garner more votes due to fears it will face obstacles in renewing its registration amid a protracted labor dispute.
Labor Rights Supported Union of NagaWorld Employees president Chhim Sithar is seeking re-election following mass layoffs of 1,300 workers last year. Around 200 of them — including Sithar — are seeking reinstatement after refusing termination packages, saying the layoffs unfairly targeted active unionists and leaders.
Sithar said on Friday that more than 1,000 members had now cast ballots for the union leadership after more than a week of voting.
But she said she was uncertain exactly how many members the union now had: Laid-off workers who are contesting their terminations can still be members, but as they are no longer receiving salaries they aren’t paying monthly union fees.
As of December there were 2,500 members, and she estimated the union now had around 2,100.
Voting, which was originally scheduled to end on Thursday after seven days, has been extended to Saturday, Sithar said.
“I want the numbers to be clear so we won’t have any need to clarify that we had 50% turnout. We want more than 50% plus one in case of any objections,” Sithar said, preparing for possible challenges in renewing the union’s registration with the Labor Ministry.
She added that there were 18 candidates for union leadership: 12, including herself, who have been laid off but are seeking reinstatement, and six others who are still working at NagaWorld.
“One of my biggest concerns is that they won’t recognize the new president,” especially if they were no longer an active worker, she said. “It’s really unsure now. They could raise any excuse to not recognize the next president.”
Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour has not responded this week to questions about the union’s election.
During a rainy Friday afternoon, a union member cast her ballot on her way to work at the casino. But otherwise the voting place — at NGO Apheda, as the union’s offices were raided and shuttered on New Year’s Eve — was quiet.
Strikers have been protesting nearly every day since December, and they returned again on Friday. On New Year’s Eve, a late-night protest was quelled by armed officers, while in February health officers temporarily shut down the demonstrations, citing Covid-19.
Sithar and 10 other unionists were jailed amid the protests, but were released in March to resume negotiations. The negotiations have stalled as the union demands the reinstatement of 200 workers while NagaCorp is reportedly unwilling to take them on.
Protester Mam Sovathin said just 72 protesters had turned up amid rain on Friday. They were forced onto buses and driven through the Chroy Changva peninsula before being let off at Freedom Park. The routine has been repeated almost every day in recent weeks, often amid violence.
Freedom Park, once located in central Phnom Penh and the site of mass protests related to the 2013 national election, was moved out to the city’s outskirts in 2017.