Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Thousands of casino workers at NagaWorld hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, won a wage increase that boosts pay between 18 percent and 30 percent and secured the reinstatement of union president Sithar Chhim, who was suspended from her job in September for defending the right of a union member to wear a shirt with a message that called for higher wages. The agreement also provides a $200 incentive for workers without health insurance and a bonus equal to roughly two months’ salary, says Chhim.

Cambodia, NagaWorld, casino strike, wages, Solidarity Center

Credit: Solidarity Center

Some 5,000 of the 8,000 workers—including dealers, slot machine workers, housekeepers and technicians—struck the casino January 9, and more than 4,000 rallied outside the complex for two days with signs saying “Demanding living wages is a right, not a crime!” and holding placards with photos of Chhim seeking her reinstatement. Chhim, a game floor supervisor, is branch president for the Khmer Employees’ Labor Rights Support Union of NagaWorld.

NagaCorp, a five-hotel resort and casino, has an exclusive, multidecade license to operate in Phnom Penh and reported an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue last year, up from $1.5 billion in 2018. Yet housekeepers are paid $191 per month.

Cambodia, NagaWorld casino strike, police, Solidarity Center

Police at NagaWorld hotel and casino as workers rallied outside. Credit: Solidarity Center

In May, nearly all 4,000 union members signed a petition demanding a wage increase, and the union began negotiations with the employer in June. When the company did not return to the bargaining table after three months as it indicated it would, more than 1,500 union members met September 19 and agreed to wear T-shirts with a message highlighting the company’s profits and expressing workers’ need for a wage that pays their rent, food, transportation and other basic monthly expenses.

The next day, Chhim was detained for hours at the facility and suspended. Union members immediately walked out in support of her. Sithar told Equal Times she then urged her colleagues to continue to work as usual, while organizing subtle protest actions, which included union members wearing pink face masks, black armbands and other markers of solidarity as they enter and exit the tightly guarded checkpoints of the complex.

After the union provided legal notice of the strike, the company continued hiring new workers, providing them accommodation and food in the company’s building and prohibiting them from leaving the facilities or contacting their families, according to the union.

Challenging Environment for Workers

The casino workers’ victory is all the more notable because of the many recent challenges to worker wrights in Cambodia.

Union leaders say amendments to 10 articles in Cambodia’s Law on Trade Unions restrict fundamental union activities. For instance, one amendment deprives unions of their right to hold legal strikes. “[Holding] a legal strike is always difficult, and I think the barriers in the Trade Union Law have actually made it more difficult,” says William Conklin, Solidarity Center Cambodia country director.

Cambodia’s labor rights are currently under intense scrutiny, as the European Union decides whether to rescind the nation’s  preferential trade status that grants Cambodian exports duty-free access into EU markets.

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Thousands of casino workers at NagaWorld hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, won a wage increase that boosts pay between 18 percent and 30 percent and secured the reinstatement of union president Sithar Chhim, who was suspended from her job in September for defending the right of a union member to wear a shirt with a message that called for higher wages. The agreement also provides a $200 incentive for workers without health insurance and a bonus equal to roughly two months’ salary, says Chhim.

Cambodia, NagaWorld, casino strike, wages, Solidarity Center
Credit: Solidarity Center

Some 5,000 of the 8,000 workers—including dealers, slot machine workers, housekeepers and technicians—struck the casino January 9, and more than 4,000 rallied outside the complex for two days with signs saying “Demanding living wages is a right, not a crime!” and holding placards with photos of Chhim seeking her reinstatement. Chhim, a game floor supervisor, is branch president for the Khmer Employees’ Labor Rights Support Union of NagaWorld.

NagaCorp, a five-hotel resort and casino, has an exclusive, multidecade license to operate in Phnom Penh and reported an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue last year, up from $1.5 billion in 2018. Yet housekeepers are paid $191 per month.

Cambodia, NagaWorld casino strike, police, Solidarity Center
Police at NagaWorld hotel and casino as workers rallied outside. Credit: Solidarity Center

In May, nearly all 4,000 union members signed a petition demanding a wage increase, and the union began negotiations with the employer in June. When the company did not return to the bargaining table after three months as it indicated it would, more than 1,500 union members met September 19 and agreed to wear T-shirts with a message highlighting the company’s profits and expressing workers’ need for a wage that pays their rent, food, transportation and other basic monthly expenses.

The next day, Chhim was detained for hours at the facility and suspended. Union members immediately walked out in support of her. Sithar told Equal Times she then urged her colleagues to continue to work as usual, while organizing subtle protest actions, which included union members wearing pink face masks, black armbands and other markers of solidarity as they enter and exit the tightly guarded checkpoints of the complex.

After the union provided legal notice of the strike, the company continued hiring new workers, providing them accommodation and food in the company’s building and prohibiting them from leaving the facilities or contacting their families, according to the union.

Challenging Environment for Workers

The casino workers’ victory is all the more notable because of the many recent challenges to worker wrights in Cambodia.

Union leaders say amendments to 10 articles in Cambodia’s Law on Trade Unions restrict fundamental union activities. For instance, one amendment deprives unions of their right to hold legal strikes. “[Holding] a legal strike is always difficult, and I think the barriers in the Trade Union Law have actually made it more difficult,” says William Conklin, Solidarity Center Cambodia country director.

Cambodia’s labor rights are currently under intense scrutiny, as the European Union decides whether to rescind the nation’s  preferential trade status that grants Cambodian exports duty-free access into EU markets.

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Ten years after a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed a large swath of Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people and injuring another 1.5 million, workers and their families have not benefited from the billions in international aid that poured into country after the disaster. Nor has the government’s response—expanding low-wage, garment-sector jobs—alleviated poverty. Instead, they struggle to support their families with wages too low to live on even as escalating prices for fuel and other necessities compound the difficulties in their daily effort to survive.

“Workers live day by day,” says Reginald Lafontant, secretary general of the Groupement Syndicat des Travailleurs Textil pour la Reimportacion d’assemblage (GOSTTRA), a garment worker union and Solidarity Center partner.

In response to ongoing mass protests last fall against fuel and food shortages and government corruption, President Jovenel Moïse increased the minimum wage for garment workers and others in the export manufacturing sector from 420 gourdes a day to 500 gourdes ($5.09) a day. The miniscule increase left workers’ wages at less than 2018 levels because of inflation, and the move infuriated workers, who told Solidarity Center staff that the new wage is not enough to pay for food, transportation, housing, children’s school fees  and medical care.

Workers Need $18.30 a Day to Support Themselves

More than 60 percent of Haitians survive on less $2 a day, and more than 2.5 million people fall below the extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. The Solidarity Center report, “The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti,” which tracked living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, recommends the government increase the minimum wage to an estimated $18.30 per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee.

The cost of living in Haiti has increased by 74 percent since the Solidarity Center’s first wage assessment in 2014. Based on the current minimum wage, workers must spend more than half (55 percent) of their take-home pay on work-related transportation and a modest lunch, leaving little else to cover other necessities. Some workers say they can only afford to eat once per day.

The country’s inability to provide basic goods and services affects workers’ job security as well. With no propane available for cooking in the city, businesses last fall put their staff on unpaid leave. Hotels are closing and major airlines have cancelled flights to the country because of the economic and political turmoil, increasing unemployment and choking off income from much-needed tourist dollars. Haitians are outraged that the island has received millions of dollars in aid since the 2010 earthquake, but public services and infrastructure are nearly nonfunctional.

Haiti’s economy, which never recovered after the earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak that claimed some 10,000 lives, has worsened over the past three years. The Haiti Advocacy Working Group, which includes the Solidarity Center, is calling for policies that focus on an equitable and livable future and “promote the creation of decent employment that enables Haitian workers to adequately care for themselves and their families.”

Unions are in the forefront of calling for action to address the crisis. More than 40 labor organizations joined a call last fall for vast nationwide legal reforms, including free and fair elections and the resignation of Moïse. More recently, three Solidarity Center partner unions in the garment industry—GOSTTRA, Batay Ouvriye and Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitiens (CNOHA)—rallied to call for better working conditions, the proper management of pension and social security funds, a living wage and government accountability for corruption.

The government failed to hold elections in October, and one-third of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies and all local offices are set to expire in January 2020, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis and another round of widespread protests.

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Ten years after a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed a large swath of Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people and injuring another 1.5 million, workers and their families have not benefited from the billions in international aid that poured into country after the disaster. Nor has the government’s response—expanding low-wage, garment-sector jobs—alleviated poverty. Instead, they struggle to support their families with wages too low to live on even as escalating prices for fuel and other necessities compound the difficulties in their daily effort to survive.

“Workers live day by day,” says Reginald Lafontant, secretary general of the Groupement Syndicat des Travailleurs Textil pour la Reimportacion d’assemblage (GOSTTRA), a garment worker union and Solidarity Center partner.

In response to ongoing mass protests last fall against fuel and food shortages and government corruption, President Jovenel Moïse increased the minimum wage for garment workers and others in the export manufacturing sector from 420 gourdes a day to 500 gourdes ($5.09) a day. The miniscule increase left workers’ wages at less than 2018 levels because of inflation, and the move infuriated workers, who told Solidarity Center staff that the new wage is not enough to pay for food, transportation, housing, children’s school fees  and medical care.

Workers Need $18.30 a Day to Support Themselves

More than 60 percent of Haitians survive on less $2 a day, and more than 2.5 million people fall below the extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. The Solidarity Center report, “The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti,” which tracked living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, recommends the government increase the minimum wage to an estimated $18.30 per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee.

The cost of living in Haiti has increased by 74 percent since the Solidarity Center’s first wage assessment in 2014. Based on the current minimum wage, workers must spend more than half (55 percent) of their take-home pay on work-related transportation and a modest lunch, leaving little else to cover other necessities. Some workers say they can only afford to eat once per day.

The country’s inability to provide basic goods and services affects workers’ job security as well. With no propane available for cooking in the city, businesses last fall put their staff on unpaid leave. Hotels are closing and major airlines have cancelled flights to the country because of the economic and political turmoil, increasing unemployment and choking off income from much-needed tourist dollars. Haitians are outraged that the island has received millions of dollars in aid since the 2010 earthquake, but public services and infrastructure are nearly nonfunctional.

Haiti’s economy, which never recovered after the earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak that claimed some 10,000 lives, has worsened over the past three years. The Haiti Advocacy Working Group, which includes the Solidarity Center, is calling for policies that focus on an equitable and livable future and “promote the creation of decent employment that enables Haitian workers to adequately care for themselves and their families.”

Unions are in the forefront of calling for action to address the crisis. More than 40 labor organizations joined a call last fall for vast nationwide legal reforms, including free and fair elections and the resignation of Moïse. More recently, three Solidarity Center partner unions in the garment industry—GOSTTRA, Batay Ouvriye and Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitiens (CNOHA)—rallied to call for better working conditions, the proper management of pension and social security funds, a living wage and government accountability for corruption.

The government failed to hold elections in October, and one-third of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies and all local offices are set to expire in January 2020, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis and another round of widespread protests.

NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY (NED), NDI, IRI, CIPE AND SOLIDARITY CENTER WELCOME INCREASED FUNDING FROM CONGRESS

NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY (NED), NDI, IRI, CIPE AND SOLIDARITY CENTER WELCOME INCREASED FUNDING FROM CONGRESS

Washington, DC — The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its four core grantees, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Solidarity Center, and the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) are deeply gratified that the U.S. Congress has shown strong bipartisan support for our work with a substantial increase in NED’s annual appropriation.

On Tuesday, December 17, the House of Representatives approved a spending package that increases annual funding for the National Endowment for Democracy from $180 million to $300 million.  The Senate approved the measure on December 19 and it was signed into law by President Trump on Friday, December 20.

“We thank the Congress and welcome this robust endorsement of the NED’s mission of advancing democracy around the world,” said NED President Carl Gershman. “This work is more critical than ever before as we confront dangerous challenges to democracy, including the rise of authoritarian states like China and Russia that are undermining democratic norms and values around the world; as well as opportunities for progress in transitional countries like Ethiopia  and Sudan.”

The NED is a bipartisan, non-governmental grant-making organization with the single mission of advancing democracy around the world. Governed by an independent board of directors, NED provides support to over 1,500 non-governmental organizations annually in more than 90 countries. These groups are working to protect and advance democratic values, institutions, and processes, including credible and fair elections, independent trade unions, a robust private sector, independent media, and groups that defend human rights and the rule of law.  NED’s four core institutes share the expertise of America’s civil society with grassroots partners around the world who are working to build stable democratic societies.

“Congressional support for democracy assistance is a reflection of U.S. values and national interest – a fourth “d” alongside diplomacy, defense, and development,” said NDI President Derek Mitchell. “We are committed to ensuring sound stewardship of taxpayer dollars in support of democracy abroad, and to promote both a more peaceful, stable, and just world, and more prosperous and secure America.”

IRI President Daniel Twining noted that the American people have also shown support for the advance of democratic values abroad. “Polling shows the American public believes supporting political freedom in the world is the right thing to do.  Investing in strengthening democratic leaders and institutions overseas enables our partners to push back against malign influence by authoritarian powers like China and Russia, reduces the conflict and lawlessness that drive mass migration, and creates a more safe, stable and prosperous world for Americans.”

The importance of supporting the values of freedom and democracy extends beyond elections, as the leaders of NED’s business and labor institutes remarked: “The global competitiveness of values and norms extends to the economic sector, with the surging influence of authoritarian capital in markets across the globe, which threatens the competitiveness of American firms,” said CIPE Executive Director Andrew Wilson.

Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau emphasized that, “democracy and the ability to exercise one’s basic human rights—including to demand a safer workplace or a more responsive government—are inextricably linked. As more people live in countries where inequality is on the rise and basic rights are eroding, the work to strengthen democracy everywhere is even more urgent.”

Gershman highlighted that NED grants provide critical financial and moral support: “When NED and its institutes provide sustained support for the innovative and often courageous efforts of activists on the frontlines of democratic change, it sends the important message of American solidarity with the struggles around the world for democracy and human rights.  With increased resources, NED and its institutes will be able to further bolster the work of activists who are our natural allies, while also countering authoritarian countries that threaten our security and democratic way of life.”

CONTACTS:

NED: Jane Riley Jacobsen, (202)378-9604, jane@ned.org; Christine Bednarz (202)378-9801, christineb@ned.org

IRI: Julia Sibley, (202) 572-1546, jsibley@iri.org

NDI: Clayton McClesky, (202) 728-5429, cmcclesky@ndi.org

CIPE: Ken Jaques, (202) 721-9245, KJaques@cipe.org

Solidarity Center: Kate Conradt, (202) 974-8369, kconradt@solidaritycenter.org

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