37th day of strike

Cambodia's NagaWorld casino denies allegations of targeting union members in layoffs

Workers on strike in front of Nagacorp’s hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
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Cambodia's largest casino operator, NagaWorld, has denied having targeted union members in mass layoffs last year that led to an ongoing strike. On Tuesday, NagaWorld employees began their 37th day of industrial action near Naga's complex in Phnom Penh.

On Monday, NagaWorld responded to allegations by the Naga workers union that it targeted members when it terminated more than 1,300 employees last year. It said it was forced to take cost-cutting measures amid the COVID-induced downturn, pointing to its net loss of $77 million in the first half of 2021.

Its "mutual separation plan" was accepted by 73% of affected employees, the company noted, adding the process was transparent and "in line with all the applicable rules, regulations, and laws," as reported by Nikkei Asia.

In a statement published by the Khmer Times, the company said that the choice of who was terminated was based on "internal rules of the company, based on business needs, past productivity, contribution and commitments, and others, regardless of the unionized or nonunionized staff," adding that the union membership had only dropped slightly, from 47% to 42% of the workforce, after the layoffs.

"Union membership was not used as a criterion, as is alleged by the union," the company stated, adding that NagaWorld has always encouraged staff ... to form unions since its inception in 1995."

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said 1,100 of 1,329 laid-off workers were members of the union, the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU).

The confederation rejected a ruling by a Cambodian court that deemed the strike illegal and condemned heavy-handed police tactics used against peaceful strikers, including the arrest of 29 union members.

"We are deeply disturbed by the authorities' handling of the current labor dispute at Nagaworld," ITUC said as reported by Nikkei Asia, adding that "the arrests and undue interference of the authorities in the legitimate strike of LRSU have created a chilling effect amongst our members and workers in Cambodia as [to] whether their legally entitled and internationally respected rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining, and peaceful assembly can be fully protected without being criminalized."

While 21 of those arrested have been released, nine have been charged with criminal incitement, eight of whom remain in pretrial detention, including union President Chhim Sithar, who was detained by plainclothes officers on Jan. 4.

The union began its strike on Dec. 18. It called for the reinstatement of 365 workers who refused to take the compensation offered in the termination package and also issued several demands related to severance, wages, and contracts. It has since added the release of its detained members to its list of conditions to return to negotiations.

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