Cambodia detains more than 100 striking NagaWorld Casino workers

The strikers will have to pay big fines or remain in detention.
2022.02.22
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Cambodia detains more than 100 striking NagaWorld Casino workers Cambodian authorities push a female NagaWorld employee into a bus in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on the afternoon of February 22, 2022.
Citizen Journalist

Authorities in Cambodia detained more than 100 striking workers from the NagaWorld Casino Monday and Tuesday for allegedly violating COVID-19 protocols.

Thousands of workers walked off their jobs in mid-December, demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of eight jailed union leaders and 365 workers they say were unjustly fired from the hotel and casino.

Cambodian authorities have said the strike is “illegal” and allege that it is supported by foreign donors as a plot to topple the government.

Earlier this month, officials in Phnom Penh’s City Hall directed the striking workers to stop their protest out of concern they would spread the coronavirus. Activists dismiss the claim as an excuse to end the peaceful protest.

Authorities rounded up 64 of the striking workers on Monday and 39 on Tuesday. Two workers in the group of 64 tested positive for COVID-19, while the other 62 were released. The group of 39 workers, meanwhile, had not been released as of Tuesday evening.

After their arrests, the workers were taken to the premises of an NGO called the Cambodian Women for Peace and Development in Phnom Penh’s Prek Phnov district. The facility appeared to have been long abandoned and did not have running water, Meach Srey Oun, one of the 39 workers, told RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday.

“They put us in a remote building that’s really dirty and refused to let us leave. Our families are worried,” she said.

She said that at least two of the workers were injured when they were arrested Tuesday morning and that security guards sexually abused the workers by touching their breasts. They were forced to fill out forms with their names, phone numbers and addresses before they were allowed to eat dinner.

“We don’t know the reason behind our detention. We have received no information about our arrests,” Meach Srey Oun said.

She said the workers are continuing to strike because there are 11 union members, including leaders, who remain in detention.

“We will continue to demand justice and until justice is prevailed, we will continue the demand,” Meach Srey Oun said.

Authorities should never have become involved in the dispute between NagaWorld Casino and its workers, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) told RFA.

He dismissed concerns about the propagation of COVID-19, noting that the workers had recently finished quarantine procedures.

“If authorities continue their actions, there will be more criticism,” he said. “We want to see the dispute be resolved peacefully to prevent this dispute from getting bigger.” 

Licadho and other civil service organizations issued an open letter to authorities calling for the release of all detained union members.

“The charge of incitement to commit a felony levied against the union leaders and activists sends the message to NagaWorld strikers that their labor rights can be flouted with impunity while they will face legal action merely for calling out their company’s labor violations and seeking redress,” the letter said.

“This could set a dangerous precedent, emboldening employers to ignore inconvenient labor standards, and potentially leading to a roll-back of hard-earned labor rights in Cambodia,” it said.

RFA could not reach Phnom Penh City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey for comment Tuesday. The city government issued a statement late on Tuesday saying the 39 workers are being tested for COVID-19. It said the detained workers must pay fines of between 1 million to 5 million riel ($245-1,230) or remain in detention.

“City Hall urges all NagaWorld workers to stop gathering in violation of health measures and cooperate with authorities to ensure public health and order,” the statement said. 

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong. 

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