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Siem Reap airport employees protest layoffs

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Almost 100 former employees of Siem Reap International Airport protests their layoffs by the airport operator. Facebook

Siem Reap airport employees protest layoffs

Former employees of the Siem Reap Intertional Airport and their union stand firm by their protests and plans to re-file a lawsuit over claims that the airport operator has violated employees’ rights and pertinent labour laws after workers were laid off in the fallout from Covid-19.

The announcement followed protests on January 22 by almost 100 employees of Cambodia Airports, the joint venture company contracted to operate the Kingdom’s international airports, representing 161 workers who were laid off in December. Protesters gathered and held up banners in front of the provincial Department of Labour and Vocational Training.

Mom Simsela, an employee with 19 years of seniority who was laid off by the company, told The Post on January 25 that it was unjust for the employees as most of those who were laid off had many years of seniority.

He added that during the layoff, the company had violated employees’ rights by not providing compensation and benefits in violation of the law, and there had been examples of favouritism and discrimination.

“We will file a lawsuit with the ministry again – and perhaps other departments or the prime minister – to urge the company to negotiate and settle with us. Our work contracts were terminated without our consent, causing our loss of benefits. This is not in accordance with Cambodian law,” he said.

According to Simsela, over the past year and a half, the company cut workers’ salaries by 20 to 50 per cent and forced employees to resign or retire ahead of schedule. These factors have caused difficulties for many people, especially those who have bank loans to repay.

According to Bun Ratha, director of Siem Reap international airport, the dispute is between employees and the company operating the airport. He recommended disaffected parties to take complaints to the labour ministry for resolution.

“Regarding the layoffs, the union and the company have available procedures to appeal to the Arbitration Council,” he said.

“If someone does not agree with the layoffs, they can continue to protest because this falls under the category of labour disputes where both parties may defer to the labour law to negotiate an acceptable outcome,” Ratha added.

Chan Sokhom Chenda, director of the provincial labour department, acknowledged that airport staff had submitted a letter to the ministry asking for intervention.

He said the ministry had delegated authority to resolve the dispute to his department, and he would attempt to mediate a solution acceptable to both parties. He noted that no one was to blame for the hardships endured by both the company and its employees.

“We have contacted [labour representatives] to facilitate to a solution according to the legal procedures, but they did not listen, instead making accusations and holding protests.

“In fact, the layoffs of the 161 employees by the airport were in response to the Covid-19 crisis. If foreign tourists do not dare to visit and employees do not have work, how can [the company] have money to pay them? This is why the company decided to layoff some employees,” he said.

Sokhom Chenda agreed the union and employees have the right to protest and said he would do his best to resolve their dispute. He cited a report indicating that 131 employees had already agreed to a monetary settlement from the company, meaning there were few complaints remaining.

Ron Ravan, chief of the Siem Reap Airport Union and the Cambodia Transport Workers Federation, said that he wanted the relevant parties to resolve the problem as a jointly rather than as individual cases. Collective representation would better serve workers’ interests and help them to resist pressure to make individual settlements that would be less beneficial.

He said employees with many years of seniority should receive preferential treatment, but instead, when there are layoffs, they are the first to go.

“Those who were hit with the steepest pay cuts were employees who had been there for many years, and then they were laid off first,” he said.

“When they were laid off, their full salaries were not used to calculate severance benefits, but rather, figures of just 50 or 80 per cent of their salaries were used. Furthermore, employees with personal connections did not get laid off or receive pay cuts,” he added.

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