International labor groups criticized NagaWorld’s “long-standing failure” to respect workers’ rights and authorities’ “undue interference” of a legitimate strike, as one representative said the groups would bring the dispute before the ILO and Asean, and affiliated workers overseas would also look to exert pressure.
NagaWorld workers have been protesting for over a month after the Phnom Penh casino fired more than 1,300 employees, including top union representatives, last year. Eight of those Labor Rights Supported Union leaders are now in jail.
Seven international groups — led by the International Trade Union Confederation — called for the release of the detained unionists, and urged the Labor Ministry and Phnom Penh authorities to protect the rights and civil liberties of protesters.
“The labour dispute at Nagaworld stems from the long-standing failure of management of NagaWorld Integrated Resort to respect the right of workers to freely organize,” the statement said. “We are deeply disturbed by the authorities’ handling of the current labour dispute at Nagaworld. The arrests and undue interference of the authorities in the legitimate strike of LRSU has created a chilling effect amongst our members and workers in Cambodia.”
Some of the groups are affiliated with local union confederations as well as LRSU, the NagaWorld union, and represent thousands of workers in Cambodia in garments, hospitality, construction and other sectors.
Apolinar Tolentino, regional representative for Building and Wood Workers’ International, said the international labor group would include the NagaWorld industrial dispute in cases against the Cambodian government before the International Labour Organization, and bring it to the attention of Asean.
Malaysian unions would also look to exert pressure due to CEO and Malaysian national Chen Lip Keong’s ties to the country, he added.
“The entire Cambodian trade union movement is closely monitoring the Naga strike as it has demonstrated the prevailing culture of impunity,” Tolentino said. “State forces, upon prodding of employers, can actually break a legal and peaceful industrial strike and file criminal charges. … That’s the chilling effect.”
Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said he could not comment on the statement. The arrests were also a matter for the courts. But the ministry would be happy to help the groups, he said.
“A statement is just a statement. I cannot answer about the statement. The ministry will reply to stakeholders with any information if it’s necessary,” Sour added. “We are happy to mediate this. So far, the ministry has fulfilled its reconciliation role and still invites stakeholders to the ministry if they want the ministry to mediate.”
NagaCorp has not responded to requests for comment this week.
Khun Tharo, program coordinator for labor rights group Central, said the international labor groups’ statement showed global unions were following the NagaWorld case “very closely.”
“It gives a strong signal to the government and the company that more than 1,000 strikers are not alone,” Tharo said.
Global unions have potential leverage at the international level, Tharo said, warning of potential blacklists for Cambodia.
“Naga’s case could be easily settled if the company is willing to negotiate with good faith and put the dispute on the table and willing to compromise,” he said.