In a blatant example of the injustice NagaWorld workers are fighting against, authorities arrested at least six striking union members under COVID-19 laws on Saturday, February 5. In contrast, no action was against NagaWorld management for covering up two COVID-19 outbreaks caused by casino customers (known to have tested positive) in February last year. In fact, the mass termination of union leaders and members – which is the reason for the current strike – occurred shortly after the union demanded the company do more to protect workers’ health and ensure COVID-19 safety.
On Friday, February 4, the Ministry of Health issued a letter declaring that a pregnant worker who went for a check-up tested positive for COVID-19. Without informing her directly the letter was issued publicly, disclosing her identity. She immediately responded on social media saying that due to her pregnancy she had not visited the picket line for the past 10 days. Ignoring this, the Ministry of Health called on all workers on the strike picket to have COVID-19 tests within three days.
The union, LRSU, agreed to comply with the instruction from the Ministry of Health and arranged for striking workers to go for COVID-19 tests in small groups for their own safety and security. Despite this effort by the union, local authorities moved to arrest striking union members on Saturday, February 5 – just 24 hours after the Ministry of Health announced that the workers had three days to be tested. To instill fear and disrupt the strike, authorities arrested six striking union members under COVID-19 regulations. In an attempt to create disorder and to provoke a confrontation with police, the picket line was surrounded at 9:50PM on Saturday to prevent workers from leaving and the street lights were turned off. Union members maintained their peaceful demonstration and refused to be provoked.
Supporters of the union and human rights defenders condemned the government’s actions as hypocritical. In November 2021 the government of Cambodia declared a full reopening due to the successful vaccination rate (98.5%) and the country was also opened to fully vaccinated visitors with no quarantine required. Over the past three months the Ministry of Health has not issued any statement calling for contact tracing and testing. The public statements issued against the striking NagaWorld workers are clearly politically motivated.
The actions against striking union members are in stark contrast to the government response to COVID-19 outbreaks at NagaWorld in February last year. One outbreak was linked to guests who had tested positive but allowed to enter the Naga 2 casino complex on February 25, 2021. While police removed the guests who had tested positive, workers were locked in the casino and forced to keep working. The authorities took no action against the company and more outbreaks occurred.
On March 1, 2021, LRSU wrote to management urgently requested testing for the casino to be closed for cleaning and for members to be tested. 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 refused and health authorities did nothing, allowing the crisis to escalate to the point where the integrated hotel casino complex was forced to close temporarily. The next step was to terminate en masse the union leaders and members who raised health and safety concerns.
Only now – 50 days into a strike that is embarrassing both NagaWorld and the government – the COVID-19 testing and safety measures the union called for in March last year are being used politically to disrupt and disband the strike.