Cambodian police on Wednesday arrested around 200 workers striking outside the NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh, crowding them into buses for transport to a COVID-19 quarantine center outside the city, Cambodian sources said.

Hundreds of officers both in uniform and plain clothes used force against the workers, who were still being held at the center as of 9 p.m. local time on Wednesday, sources said.

“The strikers were physically abused by the authorities, who also took our cell phones,” one worker named Chantha told RFA, saying city authorities are siding with the NagaWorld company to prevent striking workers from entering casino buildings.

NagaWorld workers will continue their protests until their union is recognized and solutions are found to the now months-long labor dispute, she said.

Wednesday’s arrests follow the release on bail on Monday of eight union leaders and members, with three others still held in detention and workers vowing to continue an online campaign demanding that charges against all 11 be dropped, sources said.

Thousands of NagaWorld workers walked off their jobs in mid-December demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of 365 workers they say were unjustly fired from the casino and hotel, which is owned by a Hong Kong-based company believed to have connections to family members of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Chhim Sithar, leader of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, and seven colleagues were later arrested and charged with inciting social unrest, with Cambodian authorities calling the strike illegal and part of a plot promoted by foreign donors to topple the government.

Speaking to RFA in an interview on Wednesday, Chhim Sithar said that she and the others released on Monday have called for striking workers to be allowed to return to work and are urging those laid off to remain at home until a legal settlement of their status is in place.

These statements show a softening of the union’s stance, she said. “We have made a lot of concessions, especially by asking the workers to return to work. There should be some benefit on all sides.”

Asked why the striking workers had continued their protest on Wednesday in spite of the union’s call for them to return, Chhim Sithar said the NagaWorld workers were free to make their own decisions without union interference.

Chhim Sithar denounced as “fake” another labor union recently established by NagaWorld, saying casino owners have consistently opposed the independent representation of workers’ rights.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor meanwhile said on Wednesday that a previously missed meeting with workers’ representatives to help resolve the labor dispute would now be held on Thursday.

Also speaking to RFA, Am Sam Ath — deputy director of the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights — said that the striking NagaWorld workers have continued their protest because they feel their dispute with the casino can never be resolved while three of their union representatives are still detained.

“The court should drop all charges against the workers’ representatives so they are able to represent the workers during talks,” he said.

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