Cambodian police on Monday arrested 14 striking casino workers demanding the release of colleagues detained last week by police after they called for workers laid off last month to be rehired.
Pregnant women were among those arrested, and all were taken by truck to the headquarters of Phnom Penh municipal police, sources told RFA.
The strike at the NagaWorld casino and hotel in Phnom Penh has drawn hundreds of workers since Dec. 18 following managers’ dismissal of more than a thousand workers, with protesters demanding that 365 of those laid off be rehired.
On Dec. 31, authorities detained nine protesters and a motor-tricycle driver, holding six in custody and charging them on Monday in municipal court with incitement to cause serious social unrest, sources said.
NagaWorld union leader Chhim Sithar, also charged with incitement and now being sought by police, told RFA on Monday that the arrests of protesters will only provoke more anger and prolong the dispute with the casino.
“The authorities are using the judiciary to arrest union leaders after accusing them of leading unlawful strikes and inciting workers,” she said. “But the role of workers’ representatives is to negotiate to resolve the workers’ problems, and when union leaders are arrested, those problems have not been solved.
“How will this end the strike?” she asked.
Chhim Sithar called on authorities to immediately release those arrested and charged in the dispute.
“NagaWorld must come to the negotiating table and speak honestly with our union,” she said. “NagaWorld has more than $3 billion worth of assets in their building. How can they not easily rehire 365 workers?”
Riot police deployed
NagaWorld restaurant worker Nop Tit Boravy said that authorities on Monday had deployed hundreds of riot police equipped with shields, clubs and a water-cannon to suppress the strike in front of NagaWorld buildings near the National Assembly.
Government authorities have not taken a neutral position to help resolve labor disputes between companies and their workers, she said.
“This is very unfair, because this is a dispute between NagaWorld and its workers, and the authorities have disobeyed the law by siding with the company and cracking down on our workers, who have been striking peacefully.
“If no solution comes from this, we will continue until we find one,” Nop Tit Boravy said.
Attempts to reach Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ey Rin and Phnom Penh Police Commission spokesman San Sok Seiha for comment were unsuccessful Monday.
‘A good choice’
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of the Cambodia-based rights group Licadho, said that the government should try to resolve the NagaWorld dispute peacefully and in accordance with the law instead of arresting striking workers.
“NagaWorld and the authorities should return to negotiate a solution following the standards of national and international labor law to end the dispute. This would be a good choice that wouldn’t harm either side,” he said.
Khun Tharo, labor program manager for Cambodian workers’ advocacy group Central, called the charges filed against the NagaWorld union leaders unfair, as their strike has been conducted peacefully. The strike is not a violation of the law as authorities allege, he said.
“If the court is really independent, they should drop the charges. The workers are the victims here, and the authorities should protect them by finding a solution,” he said. “But using detentions and prosecutions is a threat to their basic rights, which are guaranteed by the law.”