Cambodia: labour rights defenders prevented from staging peaceful strikeEvent
- Initial Date
- Dec 18, 2021
- Event Description
Participants in a 10-hour strike in front of NagaWorld casino dispersed by 5 p.m. on Saturday after authorities barricaded strikers inside the park, though union members vowed to return on Sunday.
Workers started filing out of the park opposite NagaWorld 1, shortly after flatbed trucks with armed security personnel arrived, as seen in a livestream of the strike by labor rights group Central. Local officials continued to speak to union workers and attempted to convince them to leave the spot.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court decision from judge Ros Piseth, which was signed on Thursday but publicized during the strike Saturday morning, determined the strike illegal and threatened active NagaWorld employees on strike with “serious misconduct.” The text was read to strike participants over a sound system earlier in the day, but only resulted in cheers from the striking workers.
The company claimed in the decision that the union’s nine demands are still under deliberation in court and “have never been raised to resolve peacefully,” while also raising concerns about impacts to business and social instability.
According to an unofficial translation by Central, Piseth said that strikes are legal when a party in a labor dispute rejects the decision by the Arbitration Council, but he said the union raised new demands in its decision to strike that were not included in the dispute negotiations. Piseth continued that the union did not sufficiently meet with NagaWorld to prepare for the impact of the strike on its business.
Phnom Penh governor Khoung Sreng released a letter this afternoon once again calling for the strike to cease, this time as a violation of Covid-19 protocol as well as a violation of the law on peaceful demonstrations.
The letter, addressed to seven named union organizers, said that the striking workers failed to give written notice of their plans to demonstrate to provincial and municipal authorities. The Nagaworld union released a letter announcing the strike on November 24.
Authorities began placing barricades around Naga 1, the park in front of the building, and surrounding streets after reading the governor’s letter to strike participants around 2:30 p.m. Guards prevented anyone from entering and leaving, as well as approaching from Preah Sihanouk Blvd at the statue of the revered monk and Khmer dictionary author Chuon Nath.
A union member who requested anonymity confirmed that the strike would proceed tomorrow from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., without commenting on whether they had security concerns.
The same union member told VOD that authorities attempted to arrest union president Chhim Sithar in front of the union’s office early Saturday afternoon.
According to the member, a Tonle Bassac resident, who also happened to be a husband of a union member, was asked by village chief Uch Sam Oeun to monitor Sithar. The resident immediately reported the chief’s comment to Sithar, who left the office. The union member who spoke to VOD stayed to observe the office after Sithar left, and authorities showed up on four motorbikes about 10 minutes after she vacated the office. Sam Oeun showed up shortly after, the union member said, asking about the man he ordered to watch Sithar.
Sithar, who was fired earlier this year in a layoff of more than 1,300 workers, sent a note late Friday night warning that the strike would proceed, even as Phnom Penh City Hall authorities urged the workers to delay their strike.
According to Sithar, the union met with Phnom Penh officials Friday morning, but Nagaworld officials weren’t present. Authorities offered to broker a meeting between the union and the company on December 21 and 27, but authorities would instead speak for the union without allowing workers to talk.
The union held an emergency meeting on Friday evening on whether to accept the city’s proposal and refused, she said.
Among the union’s demands, which were released with a strike notice late last month, they urge Nagaworld to rehire the more than 300 workers who haven’t accepted termination compensation, as well as a recalculation of their layoff pay and benefits to match the standards set in the Labor Law.
The union also asked the company for justice on layoffs and other labor disputes, dating back to a mass layoff of union workers in 2009.
Casino workers’ protests resumed before 7 a.m. Sunday, as authorities put up roadblocks on several locations along Sihanouk Blvd.
The street in front of NagaWorld 1 was completely blocked off, as around 100 workers gathered across the street near NagaWorld 2 and the National Election Committee headquarters, surrounded by dozens of officers and security in suits.
As workers continued to arrive, authorities prevented them from entering from the west past Sothearos Blvd. By around 7.45 a.m. around 100 further workers had gathered on the corner of Phnom Penh Center and began holding up signs and chanting slogans.
Hundreds of workers organized a strike outside the casino’s premises in Phnom Penh, demanding that NagaCorp rehire the more than 300 workers who haven’t accepted termination compensation, and to recalculate their layoff pay and benefits to match the standards set in the Labor Law.
A Phnom Penh court ruled the strike illegal on Thursday, a decision that was made public on Saturday. Local officials also deemed the congregation a violation of Covid-19 protocols and ordered the striking workers leave the park opposite NagaWorld 1. Workers left around 5 p.m. Saturday and said they would return on Sunday.
Around 50 workers are close to NagaWorld 2 at the Chuon Nath roundabout and are now blocked by local authorities and private security guards. To the west on Sothearos Boulevard, more than a 100 workers are continuing their protest outside the Phnom Penh Center and their numbers are growing.
The first major series of rallies since Covid-19 lockdowns continued with high spirits. Most wore red NagaWorld uniforms and white caps that they waved with loud cheers to passing traffic. Through a relatively chilly, overcast morning, workers sat on the grass on the corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk and regularly broke out into chants. Some had “strike” written across their cotton masks.
Inside a corner coffee shop, workers formed a long line for the toilets while others ate noodles and breakfast.
Fired casino worker Ment Kanika said the workers were not happy to be pushed away from protesting in front of NagaWorld.
“We want to be in front of the company to do the strike,” Kanika said. “They don’t want us to be in front of Naga.”
She said the rally would continue all day again until 5 p.m., when they would go home, and prepare to return again tomorrow.
“We’ll continue until we have a solution. We need the union,” she said. “We need stability in our jobs.”
As Kanika spoke, organizers reiterated the workers’ demands over magaphones.
She said it had been a long time since she had seen many of her colleagues, though some had kept in touch online.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has declared the strike illegal, but Kanika said this would not stop her.
“I’m not worried at all because we know what we do and we volunteer to do it. We do it from the heart.”
The NagaWorld union president Chhim Sithar said striking workers were bracing for potential arrests after the municipal court banned the strike on Thursday.
Sithar told VOD on Sunday that employed workers could face disciplinary action from the company starting Monday, while those who don’t work for the casino could face criminal charges. She said she was “sure” there would be arrests.
“We already knew in advance and ready to stand up to fight against this unfair court order,” she said.
She estimated that 1,500 total active and laid off workers were participating in the demonstration. As of noon Sunday, there appeared to be around 300-400 workers at the strike.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Other (e.g. undefined, organisation, community)
- Administrative Harassment
- Judicial Harassment
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of assembly
- Freedom of association
- Labour rights
- Freedom of expression
- Right to Protest
- Labour rights defender
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 18 and 19 December 2021, a group of workers and labour rights defenders staging a peaceful strike against mass lay-off were met with barricades set up by police and security personnel, while the municipal court banned the strike as illegal and the local governor called for it to cease due to COVID-19 protocols in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.