The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has issued a notice calling on NagaWorld protesters to end their months-long demonstration, warning that it may affect the outcomes on the concessions they are demanding.
The four-page notice issued on March 10 stated the cause of the layoff simply as “the Covid-19 pandemic”, and laid out the efforts which had been taken so far to find solutions.
But the ministry said only a few points had been agreed upon, while many others were still being hashed out.
It stated that a total of 1,621 staffers out of 8,371 have been laid off or resigned from work, while 6,181 are still employed, 2,572 of whom are union members.
The laid-off employees include 373 union members who are demanding their reinstatement as well as that of other former staffers.
The notice said the court had announced in December that public assembly for purposes of the protest would be deemed illegal, but “protesters continued to gather regardless.”
The ministry said many efforts had been taken to find a solution, citing the example that 147 of 373 who had been laid off have received compensation and ended their protest.
However, it conceded that only a few points have been agreed on, while many other concessions demanded by workers remain in dispute.
Nonetheless, the ministry warned further protests may serve against the demonstrators’ interests, though it did not elaborate.
“Once again, based on the procedures stated in law and with the aim of ending the dispute peacefully and in the public interest, the ministry appeals to protesters who are both former and working staff [of NagaWorld] to stop these activities which could potentially lead to the loss of the very concessions you have been demanding.
“The ministry will continue to collaborate with relevant institutions to solve all of your concerns while also considering the legal rights of investors,” the ministry said.
The notice came a day after Minister of Interior Sar Kheng led an inter-ministerial meeting to discuss the protest at the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall that was also attended by labour minister Ith Samheng, Minister of Justice Koeut Rith, and other senior municipal officials. Senior personnel from the armed forces were also present.
A source who attended the meeting told The Post on condition of anonymity that Sar Kheng had “listened to the report on the protests” and had “discussed ways to end the protest and to look for a solution in a peaceful manner according to the law.”
He said that Sar Kheng urged a “speedy solution” on the issue to prevent prolonging it, calling on management and former staff to be amenable to compromise.
Former NagaWorld workers have been protesting since mid-December, demanding that the integrated resort reinstate 365 former employees who had accused the management of unfairly terminating their employment at the height of the pandemic. A total of 11 protesters have been arrested and placed in pre-trial detention with the charge of incitement to commit a felony.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said that with Sar Kheng’s intervention, he expected a “positive solution” to the conflict.
He said the NagaWorld dispute is “not a big issue in which no solution can be found”, likening it to a “simple work dispute” that can be easily mediated through the usual channels at work. He also urged authorities to release those who had been arrested, and called for the reinstatement of the staff who had been terminated – which he said would solve “a large part” of the conflict.
The ongoing dispute has attracted international attention. During the 9th session of the UN Human Rights Council on March 7, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she was “troubled” by authorities’ use of Covid-19 restrictions to “further erode democratic and civic space, including as a pretext to break a lawful strike by casino workers”.
She said the UN Cambodia office had reported that violent action had been observed on the part of authorities, including forcibly shoving women strikers onto buses and away from strike sites. They were also detained and forced “multiple times” to be tested for the coronavirus.
“I call on the authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly and engage in dialogue to address the strikers’ legitimate requests,” she said.
But Bachelet’s remarks were refuted by An Sokkhoeurn, head of the Cambodian Permanent Mission to the UN Offices in Geneva, who said he had noted with “great dismay” that Bachelet was “ill-advised and selective” when speaking about the situation in Cambodia.
He said the notion that the casino workers’ strike was lawful is “erroneous”, citing a court decision which declared public assembly for purposes of protests illegal last December. He claimed that local residents had complained of being disturbed by what he called the “months-long unlawful protest”.
Sokkhoeurn also asserted that authorities “exercised utmost restraint” and “even knelt down to plead for their [the protesters’] compliance with the Covid-19 protocols.”
At least 130 protesters have tested positive for Covid-19 since the strike began.
He rhetorically asked Bachelet: “Madam High Commissioner, is a proscribed protest disrupting public order and abusing public health measures a constitutional exercise of the peaceful assembly?”
Sokkhoeurn then raised the inter-ministerial meeting headed by Sar Kheng on March 9, where he said he would seek to “address” the “months-long politicised labor dispute”.