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Mutiny at Grand fails to halt renovation plan

Mutiny at Grand fails to halt renovation plan

T he Executive Assistant Manager of the Grand Hotel in Siem Riep says expansion

plans are still being made despite recent employee unrest, attacks against the

management and vandalism.

R. Hariharan said that Rudolf Knuchel, director

of operations, was visiting Bangkok to meet investors in S.K. Angkor, Ltd, the

company which holds the government contract to run the hotel and which will fund

a $3 million, three-phase expansion effort.

Hariharan said: "The first

phase will start in mid-1994 and result in the complete renovation of the

existing building.

The unrest culminated in a strike which caused the

hotel to be closed for a day on March 11.

Hariharan says that uncertainty

created by unrest among hotel employees strike has blocked movement on the plan

so far.

The planned expansion of the hotel will add 110 rooms when the

three phases are complete. With rooms at $70 a night, the hotel is the most

prestigious in Siem Reap and is the automatic choice of well-heeled tourists

visiting the fabled temples nearby at Angkor.

Hariharan says that

continuous petty theft by staff has increased operating costs.


management have often discovered specially-imported glassware and cutlery from

the hotel on sale in Siem Reap market.

Hariharan also pointed to the

overall security situation in Siem Riep as another source of uncertainty which

is delaying the go ahead of the planned expansion.

Within the last three

weeks, three groups of Khmer Rouge conducted early morning raids in Siem Riep in

which a Thai sawmill was burned down.

Over the past two years there have

been three strikes. The March 11 stoppage was the ugliest.

According to

Hariharan, management arrived at the hotel on the morning of March 11 to find

the 143 workers milling in the lobby and outside.

Within the next hour

Hariharan and another assistant manager had to barricade themselves inside one

of the rooms, with 50 to 60 employees outside hacking their way through the room

door and then the bathroom door with axes and crow-bars.

Hariharan says

that he feared for his life, but was able to talk the employees into a meeting


Staff said tempers boiled over after Hariharan had refused to

listen to their demands. He tells a different story.

At the meeting the

employees presented their demands. The most important demand, according to

employees interviewed, was an increase in minimum salaries to $50-60.

The management refused to increase the salaries but offered a

three-month redundancy payoff to those wanting to quit.

Staff were told

that if they all quit the hotel would be shut down for a lengthy period.

Staff said that with few other employment opportunites in the town they

had little choice but to go back to work and the hotel re-opened the next


Hariharan said: "I strongly feel that the salaries are quite fair.

The employees have an extensive benefits package that includes 15 days paid

vacation, 24 public holidays, English and skills training, and free medical


Of five employees interviewed, all said that they hated the


Hariharan said, "The employees hate us, and there is a very

good reason for this. In the past two years we have been trying to create a

hotel which operates at an international standard.

"This has been very

difficult, despite extensive education of our work force. We have found it very

hard to get the employees to accept Western management techniques that require

criticism and feedback to correct problems.

Hariharan went on: "The

management team are all internationally trained hoteliers, but our employees are

having to learn what a good hotel is, something they have never seen.

"And we are having difficulties. For example, many of our workers never

saw a toilet before they came here.

"When we tell them that they have

not yet cleaned it well enough, they have no experience to judge our criticism

against and they get angry. But in general our staff is good, there are only a

few bad apples."

Hariharan said that the management has partially solved

the problems that have resulted from the application of Western management by

interposing a layer of Cambodian managers between the hotel's top management and

the staff.

The March 11 strike was not the first for the hotel. Prior to

the elections, the hotel solved a two-hour work stoppage by agreeing to employee

demands for payment in dollars, rather than riel. The management conceded to the

demand and the hotel resumed operation.

A second round of unrest occurred

after one of the employees threatened Knuchel with a gun after the manager had

tried to discipline him for hanging a shirt in the hotel's back


After this incident, Hariharan says, tensions were eased by a pay

hike for employees with special technical expertise.

Another employee

said, "He did not want to kill the director, he just wanted to frighten him,

there were no bullets in the gun."

An April 2-3 visit to the hotel by

the Post indicated that operations are back on an even keel.


and German guests said that they were very happy with the service.


American guest said: "The staff in the dining room and reception were very

professional and helpful."


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