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
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,"