Following the dismissal of more than 1300 employees of the NagaWorld hotel complex in Phnom Penh, a major strike broke out in December last year. The Cambodian government reacted violently and imprisoned eleven trade unionists. An international protest movement emerged with solidarity actions in many countries (USA, England, Switzerland, Thailand) and protests at the Cambodian embassies. The current state of affairs with our coordinator in Cambodia Sammedy Seng.
The strike has been going on for two months. What is the situation on the ground? Sammedy Seng: The government is using the Covid Law (Law of Preventive Measures Against the Spread of COVID-19 and other Dangerous Diseases) to restrict the demonstrations with certain conditions. Strikers must present a negative rapid test and a PCR test before they are allowed to demonstrate. However, the cost of a PCR test of $80 to $130 is prohibitive for many Cambodians (a typical salary in the casino sector in Cambodia is around 200 to 450 US dollars per month, depending on the function, ed.). Proof that this law is being used to silence demonstrators. Huge crowds of football fans are gathering these days for the Asian U-23 Football Championship (AFF U-23 Youth Championship), which Cambodia is hosting, without causing a problem for the authorities.
Is the government using other means to suppress the strikers?
Strikers who can prove they are not infected with Covid are only allowed to gather at Freedom Park. This is far from the offices of the government and the prime minister. The important but unanswered question is: What are the links between NagaWord and the authorities? The government is using disproportionate force to crack down on strikers. The Ministry of Labor is pushing them to the negotiating table, while their union leaders and activists are imprisoned.
Will the struggle be finally crushed?
No. 133 civil society movements and independent unions have taken petitions to the relevant ministries demanding the release of those arrested. People are also expressing themselves on Facebook, and posters of the 11 detainees have been placed on buildings belonging to unions and civil society organizations.
How is this strike being covered in the Cambodian media?
The state and pro-government media never report on sensitive events. They did, however, broadcast the police arrest and press conference to convey an image of strikers breaking the law. Some independent media were not allowed to attend the press conference held on January 4, 2022 at the Phnom Penh Police Headquarters about the arrests. Social media circulated the actions abroad, such as the statements of the ILO and international trade unions. Some non-governmental media picked up on this information.
What role does Solidar Suisse play on the ground?
Solidar Suisse participates in the strategic meetings for mobilization. It was also an observer during the arrests. Our local partners, with whom Solidar Suisse has been working for a long time, are also participating in the mobilization by intervening with the government and those affected.
The government uses disproportionate force to crack down on strikers. The Ministry of Labor pushes them to the negotiating table, while their union leaders and activists are imprisoned.
NagaWorld is a huge casino-hotel complex. The dismissal of more than 1300 workers is the trigger of the conflict.
Calls for the release of the imprisoned trade unionists are piling up on social networks.
Solidarity actions are taking place in many corners of the world. Here, from the local union for the restaurant industry in Seattle.
Solidar Suisse has visited the Cambodian mission in Geneva. We are waiting for a response from the ambassador.
Economic & Social Rights Report Cambodia
On the occasion of the World Day of Social Justice, we are conducting a global week of action on the topic of “Shrinking Civic Space” with our European partner network SOLIDAR. To mark the issue, SOLIDAR and Solidar Suisse Hong Kong have published a country report examining the current environment for trade unions in Cambodia and its impact on union organizing, bargaining and advocacy capacity, as well as working conditions and workers’ rights.