Senior NagaWorld union leaders all received dismissal notices amid the casino’s plan to lay off more than 1,000 employees, a union official said, in what some labor and civil society observers labeled an attempt to eliminate the active union from the workplace.
NagaWorld has begun a process of laying off 1,329 employees, which it has explained is due to declining revenues, according to the union. But the workers targeted for dismissal have been long-time union members, and on Thursday the union’s top leadership all received notice, said NagaWorld union vice president Chhun Sokha.
Sokha said on Friday that she and other leaders, including union president Chhim Sithar and more than a dozen core activists, received a dismissal message from the company on Thursday.
As of Friday, more than 600 employees — mostly union members — had received notice, she added.
Sokha said the company wants to eliminate protests, which the union has led. She said recent protests were about protecting workers rights.
“It is a violation of the freedom of association. We have the right to be an independent union, which has been registered and recognized by the Ministry of Labor. And now the company is terminating the leaders as well as the union activists, to make the leaders and activists unable to fulfill their obligations on behalf of workers,” she said.
She added that NagaWorld should not be allowed to do whatever it wanted, and the union was preparing a legal complaint to file to the Labor Ministry.
She said most workers had declined the redundancy compensation offered by the company so they could fight the dismissals together.
“They are also waiting to see what Naga wants to do to the union. They said as they already cut [the leaders], they might as well cut all 8,000 employees in the company. Then let’s wait and see how the company will operate without any employees working for them.”
Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said he hadn’t received any complaint from the union yet, but any dismissals of union leaders needed to be justified.
“In principle, union leaders cannot be fired unless they have made serious mistakes or violated any of the company’s internal regulations, or [due to] the actual financial situation of the company. We need to look at the facts and the root of the problem first,” Sour said.
NagaWorld chief operating officer Mike Ngai could not be reached.
International Labor Organization national coordinator Sophorn Tun, when asked if the ILO would be taking action in the case, said: “It will, as soon as it receives from the union of the workers affected a request detailing the circumstances of the case.”
He added that ILO staff have no authority to pronounce whether the case was a violation of labor rights or Cambodia’s Labor Law — “only its competent supervisory bodies, including the Committee on Freedom of Association [can do that].”
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said he believed NagaWorld’s layoff plan was not about Covid-19 economic disruptions, but a way to eliminate union activities. The NagaWorld union had been unafraid to strike and protest.
“I can say that there can be some discrimination against the union, and [the company] wants to take advantages of workers’ rights. For example, dismissing old workers, recruiting new workers, eliminating unions, et cetera,” he said. “Laying off unionists in particular sets a bad example for other employers.”
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said the company was taking advantage of the Covid-19 outbreak to “crush” the union.
“There is nothing other than intent to destroy the union,” Sina said. Dismissals due to genuine financial difficulties were fine, but “dismissals focusing on union activists, union leaders — these show that the real intention is to discriminate against the union.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights executive director Chak Sopheap said mass layoffs amid Covid-19 went against the Labor Ministry’s advice to support workers during the crisis.
“If the termination refers to active individuals like union representatives, it means that the company has violated and harassed the union representative,” Sopheap said, calling it “revenge against active individuals.”
The casino and hotel company reported a net profit of $102 million in 2020 despite the Covid-19 crisis, down from more than $521 million in 2019.
Additional reporting by Michael Dickison