New Cambodia Minimum-Wage Law Edges Closer

A joint analysis of the draft law, conducted by the Solidarity Center, CCHR and the International Trade Union Confederation, argued it did not adhere to international standards and best practices.

Cambodia Child Labor Laws Flouted with Fake IDs

Despite national legislation, poverty leads Cambodian families to help children lie about their age to get a job, while factories turn a blind eye to underage workers. Prospects for the workers, most of them female, are not good, according to Dave Welsh, country director for U.S.-based labor rights group the Solidarity Center. “At the end of their career, at the ripe old age of 35, the majority are left with no savings, no transferable skills and very little education,” he says. “The companies are taking the best years of these young women’s lives and working them to exhaustion.”

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.

Siem Reap Trash Collectors Win Pay Boost, Union Rights

Siem Reap Trash Collectors Win Pay Boost, Union Rights

At Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, trash collectors employed by the contractor V-Green are back on the job with a boost in pay this week after 200 workers waged weeks-long lunchtime protests for better wages, safer working conditions and improved social protections like health care.

The company agreed to increase monthly wages by $15 in 2019 and $20 in 2020, which means “workers with the lowest wage could earn up to $120 [per month] next year,” local union president Tea Tuot told the Phnom Penh Post. The workers, most of whom are women, also will get a $25 per month pay boost if the agency governing the park renews the company’s contract in 2020, and additional increases in the following two years.

Tea, who says the company reassigned him to a worksite far from the union members, was returned to his previous position as part of the agreement.

After workers formed the Tourism Employees Union V-Green Co. (TEUVGC) in June 2018, they successfully pushed for a monthly wage increase from $71 to $80 and some social protections through the national social security system, including access to the national health care program and worker compensation benefits.

But further talks stalled late last year, and workers say the company began to retaliate against union activists, including Tea. The company has agreed to not impede union activity or retaliate against workers involved in the union.

Throughout the workers’ efforts to achieve justice on the job, the Solidarity Center provided the union, an affiliate of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Worker Federation (CTSWF), with legal and bargaining support.

Workers Don’t Share in Cambodia’s Booming Tourism Industry

Cambodia’s tourism sector earned $3.63 billion in revenue in 2017, an increase of 13.3 percent over the previous year. Yet workers collecting trash throughout the more than 400-acre site are not provided with protective gloves and face masks, exposing them to safety and health hazards like broken glass and hazardous chemicals. They also have little job security and were not paid overtime on Sundays and holidays as required by law.

In recent years, construction and restoration workers at the Siem Reap complexes also have sought to improve their poverty wages and highly dangerous working conditions, but like many workers in Cambodia, they face big hurdles when they seek to form unions and improve their working conditions, including retaliation, violence and even imprisonment, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Cambodian workers have waged few strikes in recent years since passage of a 2016 labor law that significantly limits workers’ freedom to form unions and exercise their rights to collective bargaining and free assembly, and workers celebrating their victory at V-Green hope their victory bolsters’ similar workers’ struggles around the country.

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