Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ex-soldiers replace striking workers

Ex-soldiers replace striking workers

Ex-soldiers replace striking workers

Louk Ta Dambang Kranhoung, great warrior and hero of Battambang, should be able to watch over the city with much greater clarity after these workmen have finished their touch-up job under way last week.

DEMOBILIZED soldiers are being used to take the place of striking workers at one

of Cambodia's top hotels.

The Intercontinental in Phnom Penh has employed three former Royal Cambodian Armed

Forces soldiers as kitchen stewards in an emergency measure during the strike, which

began on April 13.

The soldiers have been recruited from the Retraining Project for Demobilized Soldiers

(RPDS), a new scheme based at the Regent School of Business and funded by the British

Government.

The dispute began in late 2003 when workers demanded that luxury hotels pay them

all of the 10 per cent service charge added to most bills.

And it is understood at least one more of the six major hotels involved in the long

running dispute has contacted RPDS claiming they are "desperate" for staff.

Danny Whitehead of the RPDS refused to rule out supplying more former soldiers to

the embattled hotels, but stated his organization would not set a precedent for providing

strike-breaking labor.

He said: "We have been working with the Intercontinental Hotel over a long period

of time, and we made it very clear the staff we have given them are a short-term

emergency measure.

"We are not strike-breakers. If anyone approached us and asked us to replace

striking workers en masse we would not consider it until the dispute has been formally

and finally resolved."

Funded by the British Government, RPDS is a 12-month course held at the Regent School

of Business on Street 214.

It recruits 50 trainees every six months for two stages of training, each lasting

six months. Soldiers study for an internationally recognized, Australian-government-accredited

TAFE qualification in hospitality and tourism while also undergoing intensive English

lessons.

In the second block students are placed into full time jobs in the industry while

continuing to study TAFE part time.

Businesses not involved in the dispute who have tak-en on staff include Monivong

Holiday Villa, BB World and the River Star Hotel.

It is still unknown whether staff sacked by the luxury hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom

Penh will be allowed to return to their jobs.

Negotiations took place long into the night on April 21 at the Arbitration Court,

but no agreement could be reached.

The hearing was the 21st time the court has met during the dispute and the two sides

are still a long way from agreement.

Unions continue to demand at least 70 per cent of the money generated by the charge,

while the hotels are unwilling to offer more than 30 per cent. Earlier this year

many dropped the charge altogether after the government ordered them to pay a higher

portion to their staff.

But on Wednesday the subject of the service charge was not even discussed at the

court, with debate centering on the fate of striking staff.

Danny Whitehead.

Of the 2,000 workers who took part in the strike from April 5 to 12, hundreds have

been sacked or suspended.

During a break from Wednesday's hearing Manfred Häger, general manager of the

Sunway Hotel, explained he had been told by the board of directors not to make any

comment to the media.

Contrary to reports in other media, Ly Korm, president of the Cambodian Tourism and

Service Workers Federation, stated he had not relinquished control of the mediation.

It has been reported he relinquished control in this phase so that unions at each

hotel could negotiate individually whether striking workers should be allowed to

return.

But he said: "The Arbitration Council decided to solve the issue of returning

workers participating in the strike separately depending on the dispute situation

in each hotel.

"But I will continue to take a leading role in Arbitration Court negotiations

over the service charge. I have not decided to relinquish control."

Staff at seven luxury hotels are involved in the dispute. Most significantly, the

Grand Hotel in Siem Reap has stopped accepting customers.

Sokha Beach Resort at Sihanoukville does not levy a service charge, but pays its

workers more than the Phnom Penh hotels and charges VAT to customers, said the Sokha

Resorts sales director Christopher Tan.

United States Embassy spokeswoman Heide Bronke said: "We hope the present dispute

will be resolved peacefully within Cambodian standards and Cambodian laws.

"We support workers rights; the right to organize freely without intimidation,

to negotiate in good faith, collective bargaining and the right to strike.

"We support the decision of the Labor Arbitration Court."

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