Eight union leaders jailed for peacefully walking a picket line at NagaWorld Hotel and Casino in Cambodia have been denied pre-trial release, and government officials are now using the COVID-19 pandemic to further interfere with workers’ right to assemble, according to the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld union (LRSU).
During a raid on union offices December 31, police arrested union leaders and seized computers and phones. The leaders are charged with incitement, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Activists in Bangkok stand in support of striking NagaWorld workers at the Cambodian Embassy, Credit: Thai labor activists
As workers entered their tenth week walking the picket line February 4, the government demanded the strikers leave to take COVID-19 tests, despite the lack of mass COVID-19 testing elsewhere in Cambodia. Recent photos show government officials at maskless social events where COVID-19 tests were not required.
After workers refused to leave the picket line, authorities sent doctors and medical staff to test those on strike, not allowing them to leave until they took a test. More than 700 workers have now been tested, and with four positive COVID-19 cases, LRSU has since suspended the strike for 10 days.
Three NagaWorld workers were detained for allegedly obstructing implementation of the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 and other Serious, Dangerous and Contagious Diseases. They were interrogated for days and must appear before a court this week. The LRSU is calling out the government for using legal intimidation to stop a peaceful strike.
In addition, a striker’s husband was detained and taken to the police station because he had been taking photos of authorities. He says he was forced to sign an agreement promising not to take photos of authorities in the future before he was released.
Global Support for NagaWorld Workers
Members of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance in Seattle joined solidarity events to support NagaWorld workers. Credit: APALA, Seattle Chapter
Thousands of slot machine workers, dealers, housekeepers and technicians went on strike in late November, demanding the reinstatement of 365 employees who were fired in April. While management asserts the layoffs were due to COVID-19, union leaders say those laid off were all union leaders and activists.
The workers’ strike has gained global support, as global unions, human rights organizations and others have demanded they be allowed to freely exercise their rights to peacefully assemble, strike and form unions.
In Canberra, Australia, activists joined the Day of Action in support of NagaWorld workers. Credit: APHEDA
During a ”Global Day of Action” February 7, solidarity events took place at Cambodian embassies and consulates in 11 cities on four continents. The action coincided with NagaCorp’s board meeting where, despite the corporation’s claims it fired workers due to slowing business during the pandemic, company leaders stressed it is a very strong financial position, with higher than predicted revenue, and that the business is returning to profitability
Striking workers at NagaWorld hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, petitioned several embassies and consulates this week asking them to contact the government about the arrests of union leaders and urge officials to respect human rights.
An additional 15 striking workers were arrested January 3 as they peacefully walked the picket line. Thousands of slot machine workers, dealers, housekeepers and technicians have been on strike for more than a month, demanding the reinstatement of 365 employees who were fired in April. While management asserts the layoffs were due to COVID-19, union leaders say those laid off were all union leaders and activists. Chhim and eight other union activists are being held in two separate detention centers under a 21-day quarantine, and so denied any visitors, including their lawyers.
Officials at the United Nations, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and global human rights organizations have condemned the arrests, with ILO Director General Guy Ryder calling for their immediate release. “Arrests and imprisonment in connection with peaceful strike action constitute a serious interference with civil liberties in general and trade union rights in particular,” Ryder says in a letter to the Cambodian prime minister.
In 2020, the International Trade Union Confederation assigned Cambodia its second lowest rating in its annual Global Rights Index, indicating the country offers “no guarantee of rights” to forming unions, peacefully assembling, striking or collectively bargaining.
Union leaders say NagaWorld has a long pattern of anti-union actions in Cambodia that began as early as 2010 when the global food, hospitality and service workers union IUF filed its first complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association regarding the unfair termination of 14 union leaders and members. The company’s repeated attempts to deny worker rights include lax safety and health protocols, with workers saying the company in 2021 ignored their calls for safety measures to protect employees from contracting COVID-19 and for transparency in reporting outbreaks.
Trade unions shuttered workplaces and brought thousands of people to the streets Monday in Myanmar, mobilizing a general strike as part of their continued resistance to the military takeover of the government on February 1.
In a statement calling for a nationwide strike on Sunday, the coalition of 18 unions said: “To continue economic and business activities as usual, and to delay a general work-stoppage, will only benefit the military as they repress the energy of the Myanmar people; The time to take action in defense of our democracy is now. The workers of Myanmar are prepared to take action to protect democracy and save our future generations from dictatorship. We believe all Myanmar people are prepared to respond to a call to action.”
In response to worker leadership in the civil disobedience movement (CDM), including other work stoppages, the military has declared at least 16 labor unions to be “illegal organizations” and has arrested or filed arrest orders for at least 71 individual union leaders, sources in the Myanmar labor movement tell the Solidarity Center. In 135 confirmed cases, workers have been fired for participating in street protests, while thousands more have had their factory jobs threatened if they participate further in the CDM.
The unions, mostly led by women, are on the front line with students and broader civil society calling for a return to democracy. For their leadership, they have had their union offices and homes and dormitories, where most garment workers live, raided and warrants for their arrest issued. Over the weekend, according to the Confederation of Trade Unions-Myanmar (CTUM), the military sought to arrest seven labor leaders, five women and two men: CTUM Women’s Committee President Swe Swe Khaing; AMG Garment Factory Union President Thet Mar Soe; Honor Garment Factory Union President, Sai Min Theta; Popular Garment Factory Union Secretary Treasurer Aye Thandar; Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar union organizers San Sen and Myo Min Win; and Ei Ei Hlian, an executive committee member of Charming Garment Factory Union.
More than 60 people have been killed during the brutal crackdown on protesters and nearly 2,000 people have been arrested.
Since the political opening to quasi democracy in 2011, Myanmar has seen rapid growth in foreign direct investment. Major multinational brands source from factories there, with low-paid workers producing garments, footwear, sports equipment, cars and consumer goods. The country logged $4.5 billion in garment exports from October 2019 to July 2020.
Myanmar unions are urging countries and businesses to publicly condemn the coup; to exercise due diligence to ensure no business or investment is linked directly to or associated with the military; to announce that future international investments in the country would be reconsidered if democracy is not restored; ensure that no worker or union leaders are punished for going on strike or joining the current demonstrations against the coup; and to protect and respect freedom of association and the rights to assemble and peacefully protest.
Tens of thousands of garment workers in Lesotho waged a successful one-day strike for unpaid wages, returning to work after the government agreed over the weekend to honor the agreement it made in April to pay workers during the novel coronavirus lockdown.
Some 50,000 workers will now receive the $47 pay they were promised in April when their unions negotiated three months’ salary with the government. After paying one installment, the government refused to provide the rest of the negotiated wages. The workers are represented by the United Textile Employees (UNITE), National Clothing, Textile and Allied Workers’ Union (NACTWU) and the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL).
“The strike was very successful because workers have now realized that without them coming together as one, there is nothing that they will get,” says IDUL Deputy General Secretary May Rathakane.
“They have realized that without unity, there is nothing and unions working together made them realize the importance of unity.”
Unions say the government deployed special forces in the capital, Maseru, and surrounding areas, with police shooting one worker three times with rubber bullets, and beating and arresting others.
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.
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.
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.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.