A Sihanoukville casino has seen a Covid-19 outbreak of more than 200 cases and turned into a makeshift quarantine center, where authorities denied workers’ claims of forced labor.
Around 400 Century Casino workers were placed in quarantine at the casino after more than 200 positive Covid-19 cases were detected last week, according to labor department official Yov Khemara.
A statement from the provincial government said there was one death, but attributed it to food poisoning. The worker, Hea Sreynich, had vomiting and dehydration and died on September 29, the statement says.
However, workers at the casino said the death caused 11 people to faint in the casino, and they later tested positive for Covid-19.
They also alleged mistreatment at the casino, including being made to work during quarantine, not being given proper medical treatment, and that workers had faced confinement at the casino over the past two years, which an administrator and authorities denied.
“For the Khmer management, when we asked why they were not sending the unconscious person to the hospital, he said that that person was not out of breath yet. If that person dies, then we can talk. When we heard that, we all burst in to protest at once,” said one worker who requested anonymity.
Another worker, who was a manager at the casino, said that provincial officials had asked her to delete a social media post about their conditions. She said they just wanted proper medical attention.
“We just want to have a doctor on duty and take care of us because the number of infected people is not small. It is not a small number, but why do they not have a doctor on standby,” the manager said.
The provincial administration’s statement said patients were receiving daily checkups and provided food four times a day by the casino owner, rejecting any claims of ill treatment made by workers online. They said they would investigate any cases of forced confinement and “take action without exemption.”
Casinos have seen outbreaks of Covid-19 across the country. Casinos in Kandal province’s Koh Thom district previously reported a spike in cases leading to a closure of movement in and out of the area.
Century Casino’s human resources manager, who said his name was Samnang, denied the workers’ allegations: No one had fainted, no was confined and no one was made to work during quarantine.
“If we force them to work, the labor department will not agree. Generally speaking, it is considered as a quarantine center, and thus, the management is with the Sihanoukville provincial administration and the doctors,” Samnang said.
“From our side, there is no control anymore. They tell us to do something, we follow them.”
Preah Sihanouk provincial spokesperson Kheang Phearum said the casino was temporarily closed on September 26 after Covid-19 cases were detected, with the site turned into a quarantine center for the workers. He said any allegations of wrongdoing would be investigated.
Local and international news publications have reported cases of trafficking and slave-like labor conditions at certain casinos and buildings in the port city, and likely linked to criminal organizations.
Khun Tharo, a program manager at labor rights group Central, said there are multiple cases of human and labor trafficking in Sihanoukville and that authorities needed to investigate any allegations linked to these activities.
“So, it is not just a form of confinement, we need to investigate the business with transparency and efficiency and inspect the company including the working conditions,” Tharo said.
Note: This report was produced with support from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation under the financial support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.