After months of ignoring union calls to improve COVID-19 safety measures, Cambodia’s largest hotel leisure resort Naga World Hotel Casino announced the mass redundancy of over 1,300 workers for “business reasons”. The mass retrenchment includes over 600 union members and union leaders – including the union president, vice president and general secretary.
Only 18 months ago the union president Sithar Chhim was reinstated after strike action by union members against her unfair dismissal in September 2019. Now Sithar Chhim has been terminated again, along with union vice president Sokha Chun and union general secretary Sokhorn Chhim.
The integrated hotel casino resort is owned by the Hong Kong-listed NagaCorp which declares itself to be “one of the world’s most profitable gaming companies, and the largest gaming entertainment company in the Mekong Region.” On March 8, 2021 – exactly a month before the announcement of mass layoffs on April 8 – NagaCorp announced a USD 102 million profit and that 100% of the profits for the second half of 2020 will be paid out to “loyal” shareholders:
“As a reward to the Shareholders who believe in the long-term growth of the Group despite today’s difficult times and in order to alleviate any sufferings, if any, of these loyal Shareholders who have stayed on faithfully with us during the COVID-19 crisis, the Board has recommended an unprecedented 100% dividend payout of net profits generated for the second half of 2020 as final dividend for the year ended 31 December 2020.”
While millions were paid to shareholders for their loyalty, workers who worked throughout the pandemic received nothing for their loyalty. Instead the company chose to slash the jobs of over 1,300 workers. Unlike the company’s concern to “alleviate any sufferings” of shareholders, it created suffering for these workers and their families.
Under the guise of “consultation” management met with the union to announce its Rationalization Plan, but refused to explain why mass redundancy was the only option. Management also refused to explain how workers were chosen for redundancy.
Although management claims that the job roles of 1,300 workers will no longer exist, over 700 casual workers in insecure jobs will be re-deployed to fill these roles. Similarly, management’s assertion that job cuts are due automation hide the fact that the company deliberately accelerated its plans to introduce new technologies, displacing workers in a pandemic.
After years of refusing to recognize the right of the union to represent its members, management declared that any negotiation over redundancies would be individual not through the union, leaving each worker alone without any representation to be bullied by a multibillion dollar company. Without representation, information or options, and facing economic hardship after months of reduced wages, hundreds of workers were compelled to accept “voluntary” redundancy.
More than 600 union members refused redundancy and are demanding the right to negotiate the terms and conditions of restructuring through their union. Having already terminated the union leadership, management refuses to negotiate.
Over 2,000 union members have signed a mass petition to be submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training as a formal complaint, demanding reinstatement and an end rights violations and forced redundancies.
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.
Coca-Cola workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines responded to the strike in Hong Kong with solidarity actions, with messages calling on the company to respect trade union rights and collective bargaining rights.
Coca-Cola Hong Kong to respect collective bargaining rights! Respect union rights @Coca-Cola HK!
The Swire Coca-Cola Hong Kong Beverages Employees General Union launched strike action on May 28 to protest aggressive wage cuts and defend collective bargaing rights.
The union, which is affiliated to HKCTU and the IUF, took industrial action in response to management’s unliteral move to cut wages and change the structure and composition of wages. This not only undermines members’ livelihoods, pushing them even further from a decent wage, but also denies long-established collective bargaining rights at the company. The Swire Coca-Cola Beverages Employees General Union is among the very few private sector unions that has exercised collective bargaining rights for over decades. Now this is under attack.
The banners read “Swire Coca-Cola HK Betrays and Abandons Workers” and “Swire Coca-Cola HK Pay Cuts While Sales Increase”
Today the Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations of the Global Union Federations issued a Factsheet listing extensive labour rights violations by the military in Myanmar. The document lists in detail a range of abuses of worker and trade union rights since the military coup on February 1, in violation of internationally recognized human rights instruments and International Labour Conventions.
More than 5,000 people have been arrested or detained and 812 killed. Dozens of trade unionists are being hunted by the military for their role in the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM).
The Asia-Pacific Regional Organizations of the Global Union Federations call for immediate action by the UN and the international community to support workers and trade unions in Myanmar and to take concerted action to stop this violence and repression.
Click here to download the Factsheet as a PDF.
As political repression in Hong Kong escalates and the genocide against the Uyghur people in Xinjiang continues, Beijing’s surveillance, control and censorship nationally and internationally is also escalating. Any criticism of the Chinese government triggers aggressive censorship. Included in that censorship is the attempt to erase any memory of the massacre of students and workers in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
To support the relentless struggle against dictstorship and to give meaning to the sacrifice of thousands of students and workers, we must remember June 4.
Hong Kong June 4, 2014
For 32 years the world remembered June 4 through the labour movement in Hong Kong. From the first solidarity marches in Hong Kong in 1989, mass rallies and candelight vigils were attended by millions of people in Hong Kong each year. As recently as June 4, 2019, 180,000 people attended the mass rally and candlelight vigil in Hong Kong. Now with political suppression in Hong Kong, cracking down on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech with the use of the National Security Law, June 4 falls silent in Hong Kong. The Beijing regime hopes that with Hong Kong silent, the world will forget.
We should remember that students and workers converged on Tiananmen Square and rallied in other cities in a movement demanding greater democracy and freedom. This included an Autonomous Workers’ Movement that demanded the freedom to organize themselves to defend their rights and interests. This meant breaking free from the control of the official trade union structures under the state-controled ACFTU. It meant greater democracy in the workplace and in society. It was – and still is – a fight against dictatorship. On May 21, 1989, the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation proclaimed in the Workers’ Declaration:
“… Destroying autocracy and dictatorship, and the pursuit of democracy is the incumbent responsibility of workers… Our strength comes from solidarity, and our success comes from convictions.”
Despite the bloody crackdown on June 4, 1989 and the arrest and imprisonment of thousands of labour activists over the years, this struggle for independent and democratic trade unions – for the ability for workers to combine together to defend their rights and interests – continues today. That is why the Beijing regime wants us to forget, and why we must remember.
On June 4, 2021, join hundreds of thousands of trade union members across the world as we gather, protest, and remember in solidarity.
Please read the past IUF editorials Why Tiananmen Matters  and Remembering Tiananmen