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Steep drop in flights to Siem Reap forces airport layoffs

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Siem Reap International Airport employees protest layoffs on Sunday. Facebook

Steep drop in flights to Siem Reap forces airport layoffs

The Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports (SCA), better known as Cambodia Airports, has blamed its recent financial hardships for its decision to reduce its number of employees through layoffs, pointing to the loss of 99 per cent of all flights in Siem Reap province due to the Covid-19 crisis.

The statement from SCA, which has been contracted to manage Cambodia’s airports, came after 161 laid-off employees went on strike on January 22. They have vowed to protest until a better solution is found.

SCA communications and public relations director Khek Norinda told The Post that the layoffs are just part of the sad reality of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said the company’s business operations were not sustainable with full staffing given the steep decline in revenues, but one of their key goals has been to alleviate the hardships of their employees whenever possible.

Norinda said even though Cambodia had not seen many cases of Covid-19 as compared to other countries, it was still devastated by the loss of tourism. He said 2020 was a grim year for Cambodia’s airports and airlines as they had experienced an 81 per cent decrease in passenger numbers.

He also noted that a large chunk of Cambodian airports’ revenues rely directly on the volume of air traffic, and scaling down expenses has been critical to maintaining business continuity in order to achieve a rapid recovery in the future.

“At the end of 2020 – with our 2021 outlook looking no better and travel activity at a standstill – the company was sadly compelled to carry out a severance programme at Siem Reap airport,” he said.

“The process we followed was in compliance with Cambodian law and it was done in consultation with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training. Several meetings were held with the employee union for Siem Reap International Airport to present the plan and explain the situation,” he said.

Norinda noted that since April 2020, Phnom Penh International Airport suffered a 78 per cent decrease in traffic while Preah Sihanouk Airport saw an 87 per cent decrease. But he said that is still not as bad as the situation at Siem Reap International Airport where 99 per cent of air traffic has been lost, with only one or two regular flights per week now.

“Since April 2020, one of the company’s key objectives has been to maintain our employees’ salaries and to sustain their livelihoods as long as we possibly could,” he said.

“Because of the very low level of activity, 70 per cent of our employees have no work to do and have been authorised to stay home. However, their salaries have been maintained this entire time at 80 per cent and all staff with salaries under $500 have kept their full salaries,” he added.

Norinda said company initially decided to lay off 161 employees but 31 of them were later transferred to work elsewhere. Also, on the condition that the company’s situation would improve, it would rehire the laid off staff as a first priority. Therefore, the total number of layoffs was 130.

He said the ongoing Covid-19 crisis prompted the company to let the employees go.

He noted, however, that the company had retained more than 1,200 employees at the Kingdom’s three airports with about 70 per cent of them staying at home and still getting their salary.

But Ron Ravan, the president of Union of Siem Reap International Airport and head of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF), said the SCA was just making excuses.

Ravan claimed that the laid-off employees protested because the company did not pay compensation in accordance with the labour law and that the company has laid off employees with years of seniority in violation of Article 95 of the law.

“If the company wants to fire these employees it must follow the correct procedure. Companies cannot just lay people off by paying them some money. If a company wants to reduce staff they have to pay five points and make seniority payments to long-term staff,” he said.

Ravan said the union will file another complaint with the labour ministry this week demanding the company to comply with the law and provide acceptable solutions to all 161 employees.

According to Chan Sokhom Chenda, director of the Siem Reap provincial labour department, both parties have fair points to make. But in the interests of facilitating a settlement, he called on both sides to return to the negotiating table to forge a win-win solution.

“I’m not interested in determining which side is right or wrong. If the labour court was up and running, then maybe there would be winners and losers. But when Cambodian workers protest we can’t just abandon them. We’d like to see mutual concessions and a mutual agreement,” he said.

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