Cambodia registered an unusual victory for labor rights when on January 11, a two-day strike by workers of the country’s largest casino company NagaWorld ended peacefully and possibly successfully following the management’s decision to raise wages and reinstate the union’s leader.
NagaWorld, owned by Hong Kong company NagaCorp, operates the biggest casino center in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Chinese-owned casinos have boomed in recent years targeting tourists from mainland China, where gambling is officially illegal. This economic development reflects the increasing number of Chinese investments in the country, and the pro-China policy of the current Cambodian government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than three decades already.
Workers initially demanded a wage increase in September 2019. The management’s response was to suspend Chhim Sithar, the president of the union.
In December, the union voted to hold a strike within one month, and sent notices to the company’s management, the police, and the city government.
Despite the legal precautions taken by the union, a Phnom Penh court issued a ruling on 8 January 2020 declaring the planned strike illegal. Reacting to this court order, 23 civil society organizations then signed a statement urging authorities to respect labor rights.
Ignoring the ban, on 9 January, more than 1,000 NagaWorld workers proceeded with their original plan to hold a protest outside the hotel. Several non-union members also walked out of the building to support the striking workers who were demanding adequate wages, better working conditions and a reinstatement of their union’s president. Some signs displayed at the protest read: “Stop Exploitation at Nagaworld”, “Stop Discrimination Against Unions” and “Demanding living wages is a right not a crime”.