Council Orders Le Royal to Rehire Workers

The Arbitration Council issued a blistering decision Tuesday against the Raffles-owned Hotel Le Royal, saying that management illegally fired striking workers and forged a bogus collective bargaining agreement as part of a strategy to undercut the hotel’s unionized workers.

After weeks of testimony and investigation, the council ordered the hotel to rehire 97 unionized workers, pay them salary lost since they were fired in April, and terminate its agreement with a recently formed workers’ representative group

In its seven-page decision, the council concluded that “within two weeks of improperly dismissing 97 union members, including all of the union leadership, the Hotel Raffles Le Royal organized an unlawful election of worker delegates and entered into a collective bargaining agreement with this group.

“These actions reveal a clear intent on behalf of the ownership and management of the Hotel Le Royal to bypass the union, which had the sole right to represent workers in the collective bargaining process. In pursuing this strategy the employer party has shown a flagrant disregard for the right to freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively.”

Following the council’s decision, union head Sao Van Thein said workers will return to their jobs if the hotel allows them.

Stephan Gnaegi, the manager of Le Royal who also oversees management at the Grand Hotel D’Angkor in Siem Reap town, declined immediate comment on the council’s decision. Lawyers for Raffles in Cambodia also declined comment.

Decisions made by the council—a neutral panel of government, labor and employer representatives—are not legally binding, but Tuesday’s ruling was another blow to Cambodia’s two Raffles-owned hotels, which have been widely criticized in their handling of labor disputes over the collection of a service charge.

The long-running dispute over the service charge turned ugly in early April when workers at Le Royal and its sister hotel, Grand Hotel D’Angkor, staged a week-long strike, urging management to reinstate a service charge on guests’ bills and disburse it to staff.

Raffles management took the strike to the local courts, where judges in both instances called the strikes illegal and ordered workers to return to work within 48 hours.

Weeks later, the Raffles office in Singapore announced that the disputes at Le Royal and the Grand Hotel D’Angkor had been resolved through the formation of a new agreement with legal workers’ representatives.

The council condemned the firings and new agreements in its decision Tuesday, saying the hotels unfairly obliged returning workers to sign contracts stating they would not strike again.

According to the council, “the requirement that the workers  register their names and promise not to participate in any further strikes was not reasonable be­cause the workers have the right to strike legally in accordance with the Constitution and the Labor Law.”

Regarding the new agreement, it stated that “the employer party did not follow the proper procedures but rather entered into an agreement with the new worker delegates who were themselves chosen illegally.”

The council is scheduled to begin hearing the case today regarding Grand Hotel D’Angkor, where management fired more than 200 workers after a strike there.

Raffles management refused to cooperate in the council’s hearing on Le Royal’s new collective bargaining agreement, denying the council documents about the formation of the new workers’ representatives and at one point walking out on the proceedings, the council decision stated.

“The employer refused to provide any evidence with regard to this point and, together with their lawyer, abandoned the hearing when the council began to consider this issue,” it stated.

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