Bets Keep Flowing as NagaWorld Employee Protest Continues

Gambling went on as usual at NagaWorld, Phnom Penh’s only licensed hotel-casino, Monday, despite an ongoing strike by employees who claim that more than 400 of them have been fired following weeks of protest.

About 300 workers sat outside the casino with banners on Monday in a demonstration that has been ongoing since it began June 13, when employees demanded that the lowest pay for staff be raised from $80 per month.

Sok Narith, vice president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation, said the union had received a copy of an email last week—sent from NagaWorld’s management to the dismissed workers—saying that more than 400 staff members’ contracts had been “terminated/suspended” for taking part in the strike.

The union claims that the casino has repeatedly abused workers rights, and strikes have occurred on a number of occasions since it began operating in Phnom Penh in 1995, most recently in February when about 1,000 workers protested a number of other sackings.

“We want [at least] $150 per month,” said Khim Vuthy, who has worked in the casino’s food and beverage department for five years. “We are educated and we have to use our brains, commanding both Chinese and English to provide service in the casino.”

He insisted the protests had been peaceful, although 19 workers were arrested last Tuesday after they clashed with police in front of the casino.

On Monday, military vehicles were seen near the main entrance to the casino and a phalanx of non-uniformed guards stood nearby.

Also protesting was operation supervisor Um Botum, who said that NagaWorld continued to operate without the striking staff because new employees were being brought in, contrary to the Labor Law’s rule prohibiting such practice. “The company just keeps recruiting new staff coming from Bavet City, Poipet and Preah Sihanouk province [which also have casinos],” she said.

NagaWorld senior media/brand executive Hem Sopeak declined to comment on the claim that 400 workers had been fired, or on the reputational damage the strike may be doing. Gaming appeared to continue unfettered Monday as tourists made their way around the protesters to enter NagaWorld.

A Japanese tourist who was checking out of the hotel, and who did not want to give his name, said the strikers, who were using bullhorns to shout their demands, had been a disruption to his trip.

“It’s very noisy. I can’t hear anything,” he said, explaining that he thought NagaWorld’s management should do more to appease those on strike. “This hotel earns a lot of money for its owners, but the em­ployees don’t have a lot,” he said.

“It’s not good for the image of the hotel. In Japan, a big company would not allow customers to see this. They would negotiate.”

The casino made a net profit of $113.1 million last year.

There are early signs that the industrial strife may be impacting investor confidence in the casino. Before the strike for higher pay began, shares in the company’s Hong Kong-listed parent company, NagaCorp, were on June 11 selling at 6.12 Hong Kong dollars, or about $0.79.

On Monday, according to Reuters, NagaCorp shares were worth 5.50 HKD, or $0.71, a drop of more than 10 percent. It is unclear whether the fall seen in the past few weeks is linked to the strike, and the share price is still far above its value of 4.74 HKD, or about $0.61, at the start of 2013.

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