Representatives of five luxury hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have tentatively agreed to resume collecting service charges from their customers—a long-standing point of contention over which hotel workers have threatened to strike Friday, a Ministry of Social Affairs official said Tuesday.
“The hotels agree to charge the service charge but only after they have a joint conference [with the unions and ministry] to define the service charge,” said Ker Soksidney, an adviser to Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng.
He said the ministry will hold a meeting this afternoon with the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation to discuss the issue in a bid to avoid strike action. The federation represents about 3,000 workers employed at hotels, resorts and airlines.
On Monday, federation president Ly Korm said workers are threatening to strike at Hotel Cambodiana, Raffles Le Royal, Raffles Grand D’Angkor, Hotel Inter-Continental, Sunway Hotel, Sofitel Royal Angkor and Pansea Angkor.
The workers are demanding to be paid their share of a 10 percent service charge, which the hotels have stopped collecting despite an article in the labor law that states it must be distributed among hotel staff, Ly Korm said. The service charge usually appears on customers’ bills for services rendered.
Ker Soksidney said representatives from Hotel Cambodiana, Raffles, Hotel Inter-Continental, Sunway Hotel and the Phnom Penh Hotel Association met with Ith Sam Heng on Tuesday morning. Representatives from the other two hotels based in Siem Reap did not join the meeting.
Ker Soksidney said it would take at least two months before the hotels can begin collecting the service charge.
Phnom Penh Hotel Association President Tek Ket confirmed the hotels will resume the service charge when a meeting is held to determine how to collect and distribute the service charge.
But Ly Korm said the union will not wait two months, but give the hotels a one-month limit to begin implementing the service charge. If the hotels comply, the union is willing to divide one or two percent of the 10 percent charge with hotel management, he added.
Pierre Bernard, general manger of the Hotel Cambodiana, however, stressed the need for more discussions.
“We have not decided anything yet.” he said. But, he said, “We’re willing to sit down.”
Bernard said a strike could be devastating to the tourism industry, “especially in this time when business is not very good.”
Ruling on a separate dispute, the Arbitration Council—which hears collectively bargained labor disputes—issued a statement Monday ordering the Hotel Cambodiana to pay compensation to 70 workers whose contracts were not renewed last year during the financially crippling severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak. It also ruled that the hotel must re-hire Hun Pov, the deputy president of the Hotel Cambodiana Union who was also dismissed during the SARS outbreak.
The Arbitration Council declined the workers’ request to return to work, the statement said.
But, it said Hotel Cambodiana must pay the 70 workers five months and 15 days’ worth of their salaries. Their salaries ranged between $75 to $500 per month.