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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hotel and unions remain at odds over pay and benefits dispute

Hotel and unions remain at odds over pay and benefits dispute

An ongoing dispute between Raffles hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and labor unions

caused a Christmas eve walkout, although negotiations resumed shortly afterwards.

However, the talks show few signs of progress.

Disagreement centers on a ten percent service charge which the unions claim should

be paid in full to workers. But the hotel says some of the money should be retained

for staff development and improving the workplace.

Negotiators say the vague nature of the labor laws is to blame for the dispute and

are calling for more precise legislation.

Union members from Phnom Penh's Raffles Hotel Le Royal and Siem Reap's Grand Hotel

d'Angkor have been in negotiations with employers for a number of months over a Collective

Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

When negotiations broke down at the end of last year, workers planned a strike for

December 24. But authorities declared the strike illegal and workers were forced

to return to work within three days.

The two parties remain at loggerheads and the Arbitration Council, an independent

body made up of government, union members and employers, is overseeing the negotiations.

An Nan, an arbitrator for the Arbitration Council, said that many issues had been

agreed upon but disagreements continue over five points including a yearly $10 bonus,

a minimum salary for temporary workers, extended maternity leave and compensation

for workplace accidents or death, as well as the service charge.

Ly Korm, president of the Tourism and Service Workers Federation, accused the hotel

of intransigence. "The employer has rejected all the employees' suggestions-even

the points that he has already agreed."

Sor Sereyvuth, the Raffles Grand Union president, said the hotel had acted in breach

of the labor law for six years. "If the employer had respected the labor law,

the strike wouldn't have happened," Sereyvuth said.

He said before the strike the Ministry of Labor had made an effort to settle the

conflict between the workers and the hotel, but the government's proposals did not

meet the employees' demands. The employees had thus decided to strike.

"What we are demanding is not extreme," Sereyvuth said. "We aren't

demanding a [free] Mazda from him."

Both Korm and Sereyvuth alleged that during the strike the hotel further breached

the law by hiring new employees to replace the strikers and that the new employees

continued to work in the hotel.

But Raffles hotel manager Stephan Gnaegi, who oversees both operations in Siem Reap

and Phnom Penh, denied these allegations and maintained the hotel had consistently

acted within the law. "We have not employed new employees during the strike,"

he said. "The company follows the labor law to its fullest."

The disagreement over the 10 percent service charge came from an expectation by employees

that they would receive the full payment in cash. Gnaegi said the legislation stipulates

that service charges must be paid to workers, but does not state what percentage

should be allocated. The hotel used some of the service charge to pay for uniforms,

meals and training, Gnaegi said.

To avoid this misunderstanding in the future, he said Raffles hotels would no longer

collect the compulsory service charge as of January and will encourage tipping instead.

He said that about 90 percent of the country's hotels currently do not collect the

charge.

He said it was important to establish clear, industry-wide regulations. "Tourism

is the main plank of the country's economy in the future and they have to have a

legal frame-work to allow development."

An Nan agreed that the labor law is too vague and said the Ministry of Labor had

failed to issue the necessary proclamation to clarify the 1997 labor law. "I

hope that in the future the Ministry of Labor will issue a prakas."

The Ministry of Labor declined to comment.

Nan said the Arbitration Council will continue to work with the hotel. "If on

any point they can't reach an agreement, the Arbitration Council will decide,"

he said.

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