Cambodia arrests 3 more union leaders in NagaWorld Casino strike

Activists claim the government is using COVID-19 laws to target peaceful protesters.
2022.02.07
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Cambodia arrests 3 more union leaders in NagaWorld Casino strike This file photo shows two striking NagaWorld Casino employees protesting for the release of their representatives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Citizen Journalist

Authorities in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh have arrested three more striking workers from the city’s NagaWorld Casino after they refused to follow orders to end their strike.

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 deemed the strike “illegal” and say it is supported by foreign donors as a plot to topple the government. Activists say the government is using COVID-19 laws to target peaceful protesters.

RFA reported Friday that Phnom Penh City Hall ordered the strikers to go home after the Ministry of Health found one of them had tested positive for COVID-19. The announcement warned that workers refusing to comply would be prosecuted and face fines.

Police in Phnom Penh arrested the three union leaders, all men, on Saturday night. Authorities are also said to be looking for four women. Arrest warrants issued by the city’s Deputy Prosecutor Seng Hieng said the strikers violated COVID-19 health regulations.

City Hall on Sunday again released written orders for the strikers to take COVID-19 tests and stop the strike or face legal consequences. The Ministry of Health said it found 29 infected strikers on the same day.

Authorities said the order is meant to protect the protesters, their families and relatives, and the larger community from infection.

But representatives from civil society groups say that the arrests are meant to silence the strikers.

“COVID laws should not be used against these strikers, as they had already been cooperating with and actively practicing COVID prevention rules,” Chak Sopheap, the chairwoman of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, told RFA’s Khmer Service. “They even went to go get tested as they were instructed. They did not avoid testing so using this law against them is excessive and unjust.”

She called on the authorities to release the strikers and drop the charges.  

Authorities should take a neutral stance on the labor dispute, the deputy director for human rights monitoring for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Am Sam Ath, told RFA.

“The root of the problem is to resolve labor disputes, not to arrest unionists and workers and putting them in prison,” he said. “It is not the solution. It is the cause of the problem that is causing it to drag on and on for a long time like this.”

On Monday, more than one hundred domestic NGOs, unions and rights groups jointly submitted a letter to the Ministry of Interior and the National Assembly demanding the release of the 11 union leaders and activists. 

Ou Tep Phallin, president of the Federation of Food and Service Workers' Unions, told RFA that the letter asked the Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and National Assembly to intervene and demand NagaWorld allow employees and striking workers to return to work.

“These detainees, who are union leaders, who just came forward to simply negotiate with the employers for workers and then got arrested. What is the situation in our country now?” she said.

“So, please, our government should take this issue seriously. If we end the labor dispute as soon as possible, then there will be no strikes. If the government wants to fight poverty, it has to make sure the workers have equal rights in negotiating with the employers to avoid being treated like modern-day slaves.”  

Translated by Sok Ry Sum.  Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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