Following reports of two COVID-19 outbreaks in the Naga World Hotel Casino complex in Phnom Penh in February, the IUF-affiliated Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (LRSU) wrote three letters to management calling for stricter COVID-19 safety measures and to ensure workers’ rights to a safe workplace. Management ignored this and COVID-19 cases escalated, forcing a shutdown of operations. Now over 1,300 workers are being forced into redundancy, including the union leaders who called for improved safety.

The union also called for greater transparency and for management to share information with the union about these outbreaks. In its letter dated March 1, 2021, LRSU wrote:

On behalf of our 4,000 members at NagaWorld, we call on management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of our members and staffs. We are extremely concerned that we only learned of the COVID-19 cases at NagaWorld through media reports and individual workers. We received no information from management about the positive cases or what actions are being taken. In the absence of any information – including the names of those who suspect test positive for COVID-19 – it is impossible for us to assist in contact tracing and tracking. We believe this lack of transparency and cooperation significantly increases the risk for all 8,000 employees.

Management refused to provide any information to the union and forced workers to continue working. When casino customers from overseas who had already tested positive were allowed into the Naga 2 casino on February 25, police arrived to take them into custody. But within hours the casino was operating again and workers were ordered to keep working.

The union urgently requested testing for the casino to be closed for cleaning and for members to be tested. Management refused. On March 1, the union made five demands:

1. The management to immediately apply comprehensive safety protocols and measures in accordance with WHO guidelines to limit the community spread of COVID-19 in the hotel casino complex [Naga 1 and Naga 2] and ensure the safety of all staffs.

2. All workers of NagaWorld should remain at home without any punishment and on fully salary until it is declared safe.

3. All places in both building must do deep cleaning and disinfecting from specialist group.

4. Stop putting pressure on workers at all forms and all workers must have covid-19 test and confirm negative before return to workplace.

5. Stop suppressing information and to have greater transparency in tackling the community spread of COVID-19

Management again refused to respond to the union’s demands.

Management’s constant refusal to respond to union demands is part of a long history of denying workers the right to union representation.  For more than two decades management has refused to fully recognize the union and dismissed union leaders in 2009 and 2019 attacked unions leaders.

In November 2019, management refused to respond to union calls for measures to protect workers from violence and abuse by customers.

Now in the pandemic – which is accelerating in Cambodia – management is determined to maintain its refusal to fully recognize and negotiate with the union. Even as it puts workers’ lives at risk.

The temporary closure of the hotel casino complex after these outbreaks is the direct result of management negligence. As the union states in its March 1 letter: “It appears that management was more concerned about preventing public awareness of possible community transmission at Naga World. Management instead gave priority to resuming business operations. This negligence put at risk the safety and health of customers and workers and the community as a whole.”

Management negligence is now costing hundreds of workers their jobs and livelihoods. Blaming the temporary closure for lost income, Naga World Hotel Casino is now laying off over 1,300 workers.

The union responded with REDUNDANCY NO! VACCINATION YES! – arguing that if workers are vaccinated and COVID-19 safety measures are put in place, then business can resume.

Management still refused to negotiate with the union. Instead the company escalated the attack on union rights by terminating the union president, vice president and general secretary who raised COVID-19 safety concerns in March.