Astrike against Raffles hotels is in disarray after a group of workers tried to split
from their union federation in a show of "goodwill" to management.
They hope this will end the four-month industrial stand-off and earn them their jobs
At an August 9 press conference, leaders of the breakaway group claimed to have secured
the support of 76 of the 97 former Hotel Le Royal workers striking in Phnom Penh
over the non-distribution of a ten percent service charge.
The group has called for an end to the boycott of the hotel by some international
organizations and criticized their Raffles Hotel Union leader Sao Vanthein, and Ly
Korm, president of the Cambodian Tourist and Service Worker Federation (CTSWF), who
have made a strong stand against the luxury hotel chain.
"If we have two parties fighting [and] just shouting at each there will be no
end," said Soeun Veasoth, one of four leaders of the breakaway. "We can
negotiate as a family,"
Veasoth said his breakaway group would join the CTSWF's rival, the Cambodian Union
Federation (CUF), and he was confident the switch would see workers reinstated soon.
A statement from the CUF on August 10 read: "We are deeply sorry that we were
misled by CTSWF leaders ... we were cheated to strike to claim for the tips and service
charge, but afterwards My Ly Korm, CTSWF, has left us in hunger."
But the head of the original Raffles Hotel Union, Sao Vanthein, has disputed the
breakaway group's claim to majority support, saying 49 workers have reaffirmed their
loyalty in a petition started after the split was announced on August 9.
"Our union keeps strong and stays with Ly Korm's federation," said Sao
"The members cannot resign from the CTSWF, [only] the union can resign from
the federation," Vanthein.
Confusion remains over the loyalties of the workers, with CUF president Choun Mom
Thol telling the Post on August 10 that the 76 striking workers had "not yet...
officially" resigned to join his union, but minutes later changed his mind.
"I say very clearly, they are my members," said Thol.
The union split occurred after a July 31 meeting between four Raffles workers, CUF
president Chuon Mom Thol and hotel management.
Stephan Gnaegi, general manager of both Raffles hotels in Cambodia, said the meeting
was requested by the CUF and that no firm deal was reached.
"The hotel has at no point of time indicated that we will reinstate former employees
under the condition that the hotel union disassociates itself from the current federation,"
wrote Gnaegi in an August 4 email to the Post.
He declined to comment on developments after the union split occurred.
In mid-April, 292 workers from the Raffles Le Royal in the capital and Raffles Grand
Hotel d Angkor in Siem Reap went on strike over whether a ten percent service charge
should be distributed to workers in cash or as a package of cash and in-kind benefits.
Breakaway leader Seum Veasoth said financial pressures caused by the long strike
had led to family breakdowns for several workers.
He and other workers who gathered in front of the Hotel Le Royal on August 9 questioned
what would happen to the $25,000 pledged by the Service Employees International Union
at their 2004 conference. The money arrived on August 4.
Members of the breakaway group would not receive any of the $20,000 to be used for
the Raffles dispute, said Alonzo Suson, field representative for the American Center
for Labor Solidarity, which has been advising the striking workers.
Since mediation failed to produce a resolution, and a non-binding ruling by the Arbitration
Council on June 8 in favor of the Le Royal workers was rejected by Raffles, international
support has flowed in for the workers.