Authorities in Phnom Penh arrested another 180 striking employees of the NagaWorld Casino Monday as the fight against the Hong-Kong based company enters a third month.
Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in mid-December, demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of several jailed union leaders and 365 workers they say were unjustly fired from the hotel and casino, which is owned by a Hong Kong-based company believed to have connections to family members of Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Cambodian authorities have called the strike “illegal” and alleged that it is supported by foreign donors as a plot to topple the government. But a series of arrests in recent weeks have been attributed to alleged violations of pandemic health regulations in Cambodia’s capital. Activists said the charges were trumped up to break up the strike.
On Monday, dozens of security officers forced the 180 strikers onto buses and transported them to a quarantine center in the city’s suburbs for processing. The workers maintain that they have been following quarantine rules.
“The authorities accuse us relentlessly. I ask where is the will to find a solution for the people who have been exploited by foreign companies? Where is the justice for the Cambodian people?” Miech Srey Oun, a worker who has now been arrested twice, told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“The company tried to turn our dispute with the company over to the authorities, even though we, the workers, had a dispute with the employers only, not with the authorities,” she said.
Miech Srey Oun said that a bus released the workers into the hot sun. The strikers were not given food and water, she said.
Chinn Usaphea, another striking casino employee, told RFA that the strike is a last resort. She and her coworkers exhausted all other options in hope of resolving their dispute with NagaWorld. She is now calling on Hun Sen to step in and solve the dispute.
“As citizen, I would like to ask the Samdech father Hun Sen to look at his children in NagaWorld, because we need to be stable in the workplace and to have unions in the workplace,” she said.
“He should tell the relevant ministries to stand neutral to encourage the NagaWorld employers to come out and deal with their grieving staff to end this long-standing dispute,” she said.
RFA could not reach Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey and Ministry of Labor spokesman Heng Sour for comment.
The authorities should release the detained union representatives and let them solve the issue with NagaWorld, Ny Sokha, president of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, told RFA.
Once the union leaders are free, they can negotiate and the strikers would have no reason to demonstrate, he said.
He noted that the government, which has called for talks to end the war in Ukraine, could handle this much smaller dispute.
“This is such a small thing compared to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. So, I think the government is not so incompetent that it cannot solve the NagaWorld issue,” he said. “But this depends on the will of the government to solve the problem. That requires will of the government to uphold justice for the workers, who need help from the government.”
On March 4, two NagaWorld strikers were placed under judicial surveillance in connection with allegations that they had prevented other NagaWorld workers from taking COVID-19 tests, which the two workers denied.
As one of the largest casinos in Phnom Penh, NagaWorld had a total of over 8,000 workers before the strike. The number has been reduced to slightly over 6,000 after the cutbacks that caused the strike.
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