NagaWorld Workers Tell Labor Ministry Their Arrested Leaders Need to Be at Negotiating Table

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NagaWorld workers speak to journalists outside the Labor Ministry in Phnom Penh on January 10, 2022. (Keat Soriththeavy/VOD)
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NagaWorld union members admonished the Labor Ministry during an impromptu press conference on Monday, accusing labor officials for disregarding calls to release jailed union leadership as a precondition to restart negotiations. 

Around 10 members of the Labor Rights Supported Union held a press conference outside the Labor Ministry on Monday morning, 24 days into a strike that started in December and has resulted in the arrest of nine senior union members. They were surrounded by about 50 district guards and police.

In a statement they prepared for the ministry and shared with the press, the union members said the Labor Ministry had invited them for negotiations last Thursday — days after nine union leaders had been arrested from New Year’s Eve to president Chhim Sithar’s detention on January 4. The union said it was disappointed to see the ministry had reached out only after the senior leaders were detained and had failed to acknowledge workers’ request to reinstate more than 200 union members, including the leaders.

“The comments of a number of high officials at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training shows the real intention of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training [which] has no will to find a resolution for staff still demanding reinstatement,” the statement said.

Labor Ministry officials have been present at the strike in central Phnom Penh for the last four days calling for the workers’ leader to negotiate termination packages, but have made no mention of jailed union leaders and some workers’ demand to be reinstated. Workers have said that their leader is Sithar, and have turned their backs to the labor officials on all four occasions.

Merch Srey Oun, an active NagaWorld employee and strike participant, told VOD that the workers were disappointed by the ministry’s lack of engagement with union leaders before the arrests.

“After they arrested our leader, they called us to negotiate with them, so we cannot agree with them,” she said. “We voted for the union leaders as representatives for solving the problems and negotiating with them, not us.”

Before speaking to reporters, Srey Oun said, the union members tried to deliver the letter to the Labor Ministry but were stopped by an official who told them that NagaWorld workers could not enter. 

“The authority asked us to leave after they knew we were the NagaWorld workers, and [he] called us stubborn,” she said.

Ou Ratana, the Labor Ministry’s deputy chief of dispute intervention, later told the workers that anyone would be welcome into the ministry’s doors, but they needed to follow the ministry protocol. Three union members were then allowed to deliver their statement to the ministry.

“We have received your petition, and [to reach] the solution we will sit and negotiate together face-to-face, not like this,” he said. 

Union member Ren Nary, who was laid off from the NagaWorld casino, reiterated to reporters that it was their leaders’ job to negotiate.

“We want our leaders back and sit to negotiate with [NagaWorld management and ministry officials] without any bias to any side, and [reach a] reasonable solution that we can accept,” she said.

On Friday, the International Labour Organization’s director-general Guy Ryder issued a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen raising concerns over the arrest of NagaWorld union leaders and striking workers, asking for their immediate release. The premier gave a speech on Monday addressing his visit to Myanmar and a first local transmission of the Omicron variant, but he did not mention the ongoing strike.

Strikers resumed their strike at National Assembly Blvd. Monday afternoon, with around 500 or 600 workers present.

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