A foreign expert on labor relations will try to broker a compromise and settle the long-standing dispute over the collection of service charges at four luxury hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, labor officials said Sunday.
Retired and current members of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, the government body that hears labor disputes in that country, are candidates to mediate talks this week between hotel management and union leaders, said Arbitration Council member Matthew Rendall.
It will be the first time a professional, foreign mediator has addressed a labor dispute in Cambodia, he said.
The mediator, expected to be named today, will enter a bitter, drawn-out conflict that led to a weeklong strike earlier this month at seven hotels and on Sunday led to a brief standoff between police and hotel workers outside the Raffles Hotel Le Royal.
About 70 riot police, special Flying Tigers forces and municipal police chased more than 100 workers who had gathered outside the hotel gates Sunday afternoon for a makeshift news conference urging union members to maintain resolve.
The workers moved their protest about 20 meters down the street, where a US labor advocate took the podium and voiced his support for their push to force the hotels to collect the service charge.
“The international labor movement is watching, and if we cannot have honest, open, neutral and respectful negotiations, then we will take action worldwide,” said Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, a US-based union.
Hotel Cambodiana, Hotel InterContinental, Sunway Hotel and Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel are expected to participate in the mediation talks that are likely begin this week and extend into the next.
Workers suspended at those hotels have mostly returned, in line with a council ruling last week.
Of the nearly 200 workers suspended at Hotel InterContinental, about 150 have returned to work and the others are suspended with pay. A statement from Sunway Hotel said 28 workers there are suspended with pay.
The service charge amounts to about 10 percent of a guest’s bill. The hotels for years had automatically collected the charge, but did not disburse it to workers as mandated in the labor law. Top-tier hotels last year began dropping the charge, saying it was necessary to remain competitive and sparking the round of union grievances.
A dispute at Pansea Hotel was resolved earlier this month, and Raffles-owned Hotel Le Royal and Grand Hotel d’Angkor have pending court complaints about service charge collection.