In a landmark ruling, the Siem Reap Municipal Court yesterday ordered a luxury hotel to reinstate 67 sacked workers – a legally binding decision that unionists have hailed as a great moment for the judicial system.
The decision comes after more than two months of protests, mediations and court hearings involving workers who were sacked by the Angkor Village Hotel and Resort after unionising earlier this year, although the hotel's owner has consistently argued the dismissals were for unrelated reasons.
Presiding Judge Eurng Vanna'’s decision unequivocally states that the Angkor Village Hotel and Resort must reinstate all 67 workers within three months.
“During July, 2011, the employer of this hotel stopped employees because of the activity of joining a union for employees’ advantage in this hotel that occurred since July 4, 2011,” it reads.
Sok Narith, deputy secretary of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation, said yesterday the decision had finally brought peace to the workers involved in the ugly industrial dispute, one that has tainted the image of Cambodia’s premier tourism destination.
“This is great information for the workers. We have been waiting to hear this information for a long time, more than two months,” Sok Narith said.
The union would now appeal to have the decision implemented immediately, Sok Narith said, adding that he disputed assertions made by Judge Sam Bunpov, who said the workers’ protests had been illegal because they had not adequately informed authorities.
In a series of dismissals, the workers were sacked between July and August this year for a range of alleged crimes, including an accusation by Angkor Village Hotel and Resort owner Tep Vantho that some of them had attempted to poison her.
Tep Vantho took six union members to court over that and other allegations, including that they had incited criminal acts against her – a case that is still being deliberated upon.
She could not be reached for comment yesterday, nor could Siem Reap deputy provincial governor Kim Chhay Heang or Judge Eurng Vanna.
Dave Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said it was a “very important” ruling that forced Tep Vantho to respect similar findings by a non-binding arbitration council ruling she should have respected in the first place.
“This is a great moment for the judicial system. There was some scepticism because of economic influence, but what a great moment for Cambodian labour law history,” Welsh said.
“This is a very impressive decision.”
The Angkor Village Hotel and Resort would also now be forced to accept workers’ right to unionise, Welsh said, adding that now “the ball is really in their court”.