Minister of Interior Sar Kheng is slated to lead a meeting with ministers and authorities to seek a solution for the ongoing labour dispute between the NagaWorld integrated resort and former staff who have since mid-December been protesting the termination of hundreds of their coworkers.
In an invitation letter issued by Phnom Penh municipal deputy governor Keut Chhe dated March 4 and seen by The Post on March 8, the meeting is expected to be attended by Minister of Justice Koeut Rith, Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Samheng, Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng, municipal police chief Sar Thet and municipal gendamerie chief Rath Sreang.
Other attendees include senior officials from the interior ministry, municipal governor Khuong Sreng, municipal court director Taing Sun Lay and prosecutor Chroeng Khmao.
The scheduled meeting comes amid renewed warnings from the municipal administration to protesters regarding actions that risk spreading the coronavirus. The municipal administration has said it would be taking legal action – including issuing fines of between one to five million riel ($250 to $1,250) – against the protesters, some of whom are alleged to have refused Covid-19 testing.
The threats of legal action were made in a statement issued on March 7 after more than a hundred protestors – who have been demanding the proper addressing of their termination as well as that of their former coworkers – had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The statement singled out “a handful of NagaWorld protesters and some outsiders who had incited them to come together again” as the likely targets of the legal action.
It added that the “small group” had “justified their actions” and encouraged former NagaWorld employees to take to the streets again on International Women’s Day to “display negative pictures of authorities’ actions for their hidden agenda”.
The administration said authorities had “invited” a total of 180 protesters to the Phnom Penh Quarantine Centre on March 7 for testing, but once they arrived, the protesters were said to have been “uncooperative” in taking PCR tests.
They are alleged to have refused the tests and declined to show proof of identity to medical staff who were filling in forms.
“As long as the protesters are not cooperative, the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration will take legal action by imposing fines ranging from one million to five million riels.
“If they are not deterred, the fine will be imposed at double the amount, as stated in article 21 and 27 of the law on the control of Covid-19 and other contagious diseases,” the notice said.
It added that any individual found to be “obstructing the implementation of health measures” will be referred to court.
More than 1,000 NagaWorld workers have been protesting since mid-December, demanding that the company reinstate 365 former employees who they say were unfairly laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A total of 11 protesters have been arrested and placed in pre-trial detention with the charge of incitement to commit a felony. Nearly a hundred protesters have tested positive for Covid-19, prompting authorities to take the action of prohibiting public assembly to prevent the disease from further spreading within the community.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Centre for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) urged the authorities to solve the dispute in a peaceful manner, citing the common interests of the two parties as the government begins the process of economic recovery.
“If we cannot find a black-and-white solution, we should apply humanitarian principles. NagaWorld employees have already lost their jobs and incomes and are depressed. If the authorities impose fines on them, where can they get the money to pay them off?” he said.
Tola added that he supported the suggestions of Sar Kheng, who in late January urged both the labour ministry and NagaWorld management to address the former casino employees’ grievances as soon as possible.
He said relevant authorities should resolve the dispute with the assistance of the municipal administration to find a compromise that could end the conflict.