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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Striking workers quit Raffles union in bid for jobs

Striking workers quit Raffles union in bid for jobs

Astrike against Raffles hotels is in disarray after a group of workers tried to split

from their union federation in a show of "goodwill" to management.

They hope this will end the four-month industrial stand-off and earn them their jobs

back.

At an August 9 press conference, leaders of the breakaway group claimed to have secured

the support of 76 of the 97 former Hotel Le Royal workers striking in Phnom Penh

over the non-distribution of a ten percent service charge.

The group has called for an end to the boycott of the hotel by some international

organizations and criticized their Raffles Hotel Union leader Sao Vanthein, and Ly

Korm, president of the Cambodian Tourist and Service Worker Federation (CTSWF), who

have made a strong stand against the luxury hotel chain.

"If we have two parties fighting [and] just shouting at each there will be no

end," said Soeun Veasoth, one of four leaders of the breakaway. "We can

negotiate as a family,"

Veasoth said his breakaway group would join the CTSWF's rival, the Cambodian Union

Federation (CUF), and he was confident the switch would see workers reinstated soon.

A statement from the CUF on August 10 read: "We are deeply sorry that we were

misled by CTSWF leaders ... we were cheated to strike to claim for the tips and service

charge, but afterwards My Ly Korm, CTSWF, has left us in hunger."

But the head of the original Raffles Hotel Union, Sao Vanthein, has disputed the

breakaway group's claim to majority support, saying 49 workers have reaffirmed their

loyalty in a petition started after the split was announced on August 9.

"Our union keeps strong and stays with Ly Korm's federation," said Sao

Vanthein.

"The members cannot resign from the CTSWF, [only] the union can resign from

the federation," Vanthein.

Confusion remains over the loyalties of the workers, with CUF president Choun Mom

Thol telling the Post on August 10 that the 76 striking workers had "not yet...

officially" resigned to join his union, but minutes later changed his mind.

"I say very clearly, they are my members," said Thol.

The union split occurred after a July 31 meeting between four Raffles workers, CUF

president Chuon Mom Thol and hotel management.

Stephan Gnaegi, general manager of both Raffles hotels in Cambodia, said the meeting

was requested by the CUF and that no firm deal was reached.

"The hotel has at no point of time indicated that we will reinstate former employees

under the condition that the hotel union disassociates itself from the current federation,"

wrote Gnaegi in an August 4 email to the Post.

He declined to comment on developments after the union split occurred.

In mid-April, 292 workers from the Raffles Le Royal in the capital and Raffles Grand

Hotel d Angkor in Siem Reap went on strike over whether a ten percent service charge

should be distributed to workers in cash or as a package of cash and in-kind benefits.

Breakaway leader Seum Veasoth said financial pressures caused by the long strike

had led to family breakdowns for several workers.

He and other workers who gathered in front of the Hotel Le Royal on August 9 questioned

what would happen to the $25,000 pledged by the Service Employees International Union

at their 2004 conference. The money arrived on August 4.

Members of the breakaway group would not receive any of the $20,000 to be used for

the Raffles dispute, said Alonzo Suson, field representative for the American Center

for Labor Solidarity, which has been advising the striking workers.

Since mediation failed to produce a resolution, and a non-binding ruling by the Arbitration

Council on June 8 in favor of the Le Royal workers was rejected by Raffles, international

support has flowed in for the workers.

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