Workers at Cambodian casino win pay rise

In a settlement deal offered within a day of the strike, workers of the NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh, clinched an impressive victory

January 20, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Workers protesting outside NagaWorld, on the day of the strike. Photo: Reuters

After two-days of strike, workers in Cambodia’s largest casino have won a settlement deal with the hotel management to hike wages exponentially. Over 2,000 workers at the NagaWorld casino hotel in the national capital of Phnom Penh received a massive wage hike of 18% to 30%, while also revoking the termination of their union leader, as part of labor settlement. This is considered an important victory as the government has cracked down on workers’ movements in the last two years, in the name of fighting the outlawed opposition party.

NagaWorld is the largest hotel-cum-casino, owned by the Malaysian billionaire Chen Lip Keong’s NagaCorp, a Hong Kong-listed multi-billion dollar corporation, with a legal monopoly of running a casino inside the city center. Workers are paid a monthly wage between USD 150 to USD 250, while the casino staff are paid between USD 230 to USD 370 a month. Workers demanded for a pay rise that will bring their salaries up to USD 300 to USD 500.

Their complaints include strenuous work hours, with little to no toilet breaks for hours, and also of abuse from customers which are often overlooked by the management. They have also complained that the low salaries in the most expensive part of the country have forced many of them into overcrowded dormitories away from their families.

Victory even bigger amid anti-union repression

Ever since the former opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was banned by the Constitutional Court, the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has targeted trade unionist and workers’ movements, which are considered among the most powerful in Southeast Asia, in a bid to curtail opposition to his government.

Workers at the NagaWorld hotel and casino began protesting after union president, Chhim Sithar, was expelled in September 2019 for organizing workers to fight for higher wages. Workers were since constantly threatened with termination by the management if they tried to unionize or raise any kind of labor disputes in the courts.

After months of protests and negotiations, with no results forthcoming, the workers in the hotel voted overwhelmingly (with 97% of workers in favor) on December 16, 2019, to strike on January 9, 2020. On the eve of the strike a court of first instance in Phnom Penh passed a provisional order in favor of the company’s appeal against the strike, effectively rendering the strike illegal despite it being a constitutionally guaranteed right.

Despite the court order, the workers went on strike, and hundreds of them picketed the hotel on the day of its strike. This prompted the management to reach out to workers with a settlement deal, within a day. The deal was finalized by January 11, and will set about a mechanism for better working conditions and work hours, while also immediately raising wages.

Speaking to Reuters, one of the workers stated that “this victory came out of our solidarity.” The struggle is far from over as most of the workers’ demands, including the originally demanded pay hike, is yet to be agreed upon. “The outcome will pave the way for the union to negotiate for other remaining demands” said the Khun Tharo of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, speaking to the Bangkok Post.