NagaWorld Workers, Admitting Fatigue One Month Into Strike, Take 1,300 Signatures Around Embassies

4 min read
A NagaWorld strike participant carries a petition to the German embassy’s gated entrance on January 17, 2022. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)
[responsivevoice_button voice="US English Female"]

Kheng Chenda, 41, said protesting workers at Phnom Penh casino NagaWorld have talked about taking a day off.

As of Tuesday, it will be one month since they began daily rallies against the termination of union leaders — eight of whom are now in jail.

“We’ve raised taking a day off the protest, but the majority are still voting to rally, because our eight union leaders cannot take a day off from prison,” Chenda said.

After working at the casino for 20 years, Chenda was also laid off last year.

“I am being honest with you — the strike is almost one month. We have no more physical power. But we have the motivation to come every day,” she said.

On Monday, around 20 workers took a petition with around 1,300 thumbprints to six embassies and consulates: France, Britain, Canada, Germany, Singapore and the E.U. They further plan to submit the documents to the delegations of Malaysia, India, Japan, Czech Republic, Australia, South Korea, U.S. and Indonesia.

The petition asks the foreign representatives to raise the arrests of union leaders with the highest levels of the Cambodian government; continue to monitor the workers’ rallies; and “maintain a strong voice” for the government to uphold human rights.

A NagaWorld strike participant holds a copy of a petition the union plans to deliver to embassies in Cambodia near the U.S. Embassy on January 17, 2022. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)

Chenda said the petition was a “final strategy” for the tired workers, and they would wait for the embassies’ responses.

Sopheak Molika, an active NagaWorld worker on strike, said she would also like to see diplomats visit the jailed unionists.

“We all cannot visit them like an ambassador could,” she said.

When asked about the embassy petitions in a group chat with journalists, Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour would not comment, saying sending petitions to embassies is not included in the labor law. He instead reiterated previous calls to continue negotiations with the ministry. 

“This is Cambodia, in which foreigners cannot intervene in our work,” he said. “The ministry welcomes the workers to solve the problem even on a holiday.”

Last week, strikers still hired by the company received what they were told was the “last call” to return to work.

“We did not choose the court to help us, because we’ve pursued all [legal] procedures already,” Molika said. “If they want us to stop striking, Naga company, please come to solve this problem by enforcing the Labor Law.”

On Friday, the site of the rallies on National Assembly Rd. near the Royal Group’s Soho Mall had surveillance cameras installed. Chenda, the laid-off worker, said the protesters were conscious of maintaining social distancing and other precautions to avoid charges from authorities.

Canadian and German representatives said they had received the petition and were in the process of reviewing it, and referred reporters to previous statements. 

A NagaWorld strike participant holds a copy of a petition addressed to the Singaporean Embassy on January 17, 2022. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)

The French Embassy said it was closely monitoring the situation of the NagaWorld strikers, and that “France considers that the freedom to demonstrate peacefully is an essential right.”

The Canadian Embassy previously called the unionists’ arrests “troubling.” “We urge authorities to hear citizens, not silence them,” it said.

German ambassador Christian Berger said in the previous statement that he had placed “strong hopes” in the Labor Ministry’s mediation efforts, but the situation had deteriorated.

“Unions must be able to operate freely” including the right to go on strike, but “all actors should avoid a situation where a labour conflict becomes a political deadlock,” Berger said, urging a return to the negotiating table.

The Labor Ministry has also urged a resumption of negotiations, but workers have previously said their jailed union members should be released and present at any negotiations.

Additional reporting by Michael Dickison and Khut Sokun

VOD. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission. VOD is not responsible for any infringement in all forms. The perpetrator may be subject to legal action under Cambodian laws and related laws.