The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training said it is continuing to mediate a solution to the ongoing NagaWorld labour dispute, which has dragged on since late 2021.

Union representatives at the integrated casino resort still demand that the laid-off workers are reinstated, while the company has insisted that it will not accept their return.

The two sides have agreed to meet on February 17, where they will reconsider mutual concessions that could lead to the conclusion of the dispute, said the ministry in a January 17 notice. The meeting will be the 23rd time the two parties have attempted to negotiate.

The meeting will be chaired by Tes Rukhaphal, head of the General Secretariat of the Labour Advisory Committee.

“The ministry urges the two sides to demonstrate mutual understanding in working to resolve this dispute. In order to maintain public order, we urge both parties to continue to work closely with the authorities in a peaceful, calm manner. In accordance with legal procedure, if the dispute cannot be resolved through mediation, the case will be referred to court,” it said.

Khleang Soben, secretary-general of the Cambodian Workers’ Rights Support Union at NagaWorld, claimed that the dispute drags on because the ministry, as the mediator, is “biased” towards the company. The workers, she alleged, are powerless and continue to suffer from injustice despite national and international law.

“As one of the workers’ representatives, I can say that every time we meet, the company’s representatives are unwilling to make a single concession. I also know that the ministry is aware that we have suffered injustice, but say they cannot resolve it. Despite claiming to have a ‘generous heart’, Nagaworld refuses to concede on even the smallest point,” she added.

Soben remained hopeful that a solution would one day be found.

Khun Tharo, programme manager for the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said the failed resolution of the dispute demonstrated the ministry’s lack of intent. The ministry was happy to mediate compensation cases, but appeared unwilling to resolve issues related to legal rights, such as NagaWorld’s failure to reinstate union leaders and delegates.

“The denial of union registration and a freeze on union contributions interferes with the internal affairs of unions and is prohibited by the core conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which Cambodia has ratified,” he added.

“We believe that the labour ministry has permitted many irregularities in its own dispute resolution procedures, and appears content to delay any form of settlement, which is a serious breach of labour rights,” said Tharo.

He added that the recent arrests of prominent labour rights activists were a violation of human and labour rights, and that the charges had no basis in law.

Labour ministry spokesman Heng Sour countered that the resolution of labour disputes could not be focused on one individual’s arbitrary interpretation of the law.

“Every country has its own laws and mechanisms in place to provide harmonious professional relations. As a state institution responsible for finding a legal resolution, we can only interpret the laws that are currently in place in Cambodia, and not pick-and-choose from other nations’,” he said.

“The ministry has acted in good faith and will continue to push for a resolution acceptable to all parties. We urge both sides to meet and find an equitable solution,” he added.

As of January 11 this year, 255 of the 373 former NagaWorld employees have agreed to accept severance packages and terminate their employment contracts while 118 others have refused the offer of compensation. Union leader Chhim Sithor remains in custody, accused of breaching bail conditions on charges related to January 2022 strike activities.