Cambodia’s Minister of Interior Sar Kheng will lead a meeting of governmental officials on Wednesday in an effort to resolve the long-standing NagaWorld Casino labor dispute, a move that worker rights groups applauded as a positive step.
The Phnom Penh Post reported Tuesday that the ministers of the health, labor and justice departments and the heads of the Phnom Penh city government, municipal court and the national police will attend the meeting, according to a March 4 invitation letter.
Thousands of NagaWorld workers walked off their jobs in mid-December, demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of 11 jailed union leaders and workers and 365 others they say were unjustly fired from the hotel and casino, which is owned by a Hong Kong-based company believed to have connections to family members of Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Cambodian authorities have called the strike “illegal” and alleged that it is supported by foreign donors as a plot to topple the government. But a series of mass arrests in recent weeks have been attributed to alleged violations of pandemic health regulations in Cambodia’s capital. Activists said the charges were trumped up to break up the strike.
The news of the meeting provides hope that the 11 leaders and workers will be released soon, Khun Tharo, program manager for Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“I think this is the time to resolve the labor dispute. If the authorities can act neutrally, this can be a mutual concession. I think we can end it here,” he said.
A group of women also protested Tuesday in front of the Prey Sar prison, where the 11 detained unionists are being held. They released balloons and shouted that the arrested union leaders, most of whom are female, should be released immediately.
Ou Tep Pallin, the vice president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation, called on authorities to release the 11, eight of whom are union officials before they start talking about resolving the labor dispute.
“I would like the casino’s management to talk with the union leaders after their release. They must be released first before we can resume talking,” she told RFA.
Elsewhere in the city, more than 400 people from 17 NGOs gathered to mark the International Women’s Day.
Cambodian women who operate informal businesses face many challenges, Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association NGO, who attended the event, told RFA.
He said that authorities have not given any social support to about 75 percent of roughly 2 million women in informal business.
“The government hasn’t helped women who are working as street venders. I urge the government to support them,” he said.
He also mentioned that he believes the government is harassing the striking NagaWorld workers.
The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association issued a statement Tuesday saying a report compiled by the NGO shows that women in Cambodia continue to suffer abuses, like rape, domestic violence and human trafficking. The NGO said it received 243 complaints of those abuses over the past two years.