Nearly all of the former employees of the closed Great Duke Hotel in Phnom Penh have received owed compensation distributed by the Labor Ministry as of Monday, but an official declined to clarify the source of the payouts.
The Labor Ministry told former Great Duke staff, some of whom had worked for the hotel for more than 20 years, that they could pick up their payment on Saturday. The compensation was awarded to them in an Arbitration Council decision in February, but their former employer had refused to pay as of late last week.
Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said on Friday that the government had more than $320,000 in hand to pay the employees. When asked who provided the money for the payments, Sour said he would not reveal the funding source.
The spokesman could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Touch Kosal, president of the Cambodia Tourism Workers Union Federation and a former hotel employee, said the compensation had been in line with the Arbitration Council’s decision in February, and he was happy to see almost all of the workers receive payment.
After visiting the Labor Ministry and presenting identification, workers received between $300 and $13,000 each, according to their seniority and position, Kosal said. By Monday, the unionist noted that 12 ex-staff had yet to claim their payments because they were outside Phnom Penh or did not bring required ID.
After 32 workers had failed to pick up their payment by the end of Saturday, Moeun Tola, executive director of labor rights group Central, urged the Labor Ministry to allow family members to pick up payments if they can provide an authorization letter from the former employee.
In January, the union calculated that the hotel owed workers more than $700,000 in unpaid seniority payments and benefits. However, both the employees and hotel’s representatives agreed to an Arbitration Council decision in late February, which awarded workers less than half that sum for their seniority benefits, unused vacation time and late notice of termination but excluded damages.
Kosal told VOD that the hotel’s lawyers recalculated compensation without damages after the Arbitration Council hearings, finding the total owed to workers to be under $323,000.
The former employees held their most recent of sporadic protests in late May after the employer had failed to compensate them for three months. At that time, the hotel’s lawyer said the owner could not pay due to the sluggish economy, which he said prevented the company from turning a profit.
Men Nimmith, executive director of the Arbitration Council Foundation, said the case was closed now that workers have received their payments, and the council had no power to compel the employer to comply with the council’s decision like a court.
“So it will fall to the hands of the parties and authorities such as the [Labor] Ministry,” Nimmith said.
He said the hotel owner can choose to ignore the council’s decision and potentially face a trial if the union were to file a court complaint.
But when the employer failed to pay compensation for months, Kosal said that the union elected to protest instead of filing a complaint to the court or the ministry’s dispute resolution committee because the union felt the legal process would take too long to get workers compensated, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic and economic slowdown.
When asked where the workers’ compensation came from, Nimmith said he believed that the Labor Ministry had mostly funded the payouts and had done so in order to help workers through the difficult financial period.
Oum Vanna, who worked at the Great Duke for 20 years, said he received nearly $2,600 on Saturday, which will help him pay his debts and support his family through the economic crisis.
“[This payment] will somewhat help my family because during Covid-19 I can use some to pay the bank and keep some for my family,” Vanna said.
Another former employee, Tep Phannikak, said she had received $300 after working at the hotel for a short period. She said former staff who have not received compensation should go to the ministry this week with their documents including an ID card, employee ID or National Social Security Fund card so the ministry can pay them.
The Great Duke, formerly the five-star InterContinental Phnom Penh, closed on December 31 and fired workers after 23 years of operation, citing financial issues.
Though the dispute with his former employer is resolved, union president Kosal said the Labor Ministry should have stepped in at a much earlier time to ensure that workers received the payments they were owed.
“The ministry should [have taken action] after the Arbitration Council decision,” Kosal told VOD. “When this hotel or any company does not follow the order, the union or workers can file a complaint to have intervention and during this time, I think that the labor minister should put pressure or force the owner of the hotel or company to comply.”