Protests Continue at Closed Hotel d’Angkor

siem reap town – Metal barricades manned by security guards continued to block the street in front of the Grand Hotel d’Angkor on Thursday.

The hotel’s windows were still shuttered and its curtains re­mained drawn. And some 195 staff members, fired by the hotel Saturday, continued to demonstrate near the hotel.

After being told to move earlier this week by a police-enforced court order, the demonstrators have been picketing about 100 meters from the front of the hotel in an area along the Siem Reap river.

A Khmer-language notice that was dated April 16 but, according to union leaders, was posted for the first time on Thursday, invited anyone seeking employment with the hotel to inquire with security guards or the hotel’s approximately 50 remaining staff members.

The hotel closed its doors on April 6 after workers walked out the previous day, demanding that a 10 percent service charge be reinstated on customers’ bills and given to the workers. The hotel is scheduled to reopen May 1.

Few of the town’s foreign tourists on Thursday knew about of the weekslong controversy that has strangled business at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor and other upscale hotels in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Two Scottish tourists staying at the Sofitel Royal Angkor said they only heard about the strikes when they tried to go for a drink at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor on Wednes­day evening and were turned away. They arrived Wednes­day, more than a week after a strike at the Royal Angkor was resolved.

Members of a group of US tourists, staying at a small guest house, said they knew about the strikes. “Coming from the States, my assumption is that if they are charging a service charge, it is going to the service. It’s a gratuity,” John Martinson said.

The Grand Hotel d’Angkor’s listed price for a single room starts at $310 a night, hotel representatives said. And about half of its workers earned $30 a month, according to union leaders.

“This is the biggest hotel in Siem Reap, the most expensive hotel,” said Eam Sokhim, 22, a waitress who earned $80 a month and has worked there for two years. “The Sofitel and Pansea are smaller but the working conditions are better. I don’t understand why.”

Employees at Siem Reap’s other luxury hotels are carefully watching the ongoing dispute at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor.

“What would you do? Would you strike again?” an employee of the Royal Angkor asked repeatedly when the manager was out of earshot. “I think maybe we will, but for now we are waiting.”

Strikers at the Royal Angkor went back to work April 12, after the hotel offered them an additional $45 a month and agreed to impose a service charge and pay a portion to employees if the government so orders it to do so.

Employees at the Royal Angkor and other hotels who agreed to discuss the strikes refused to give their names and would only answer questions surreptitiously. In general, workers were unsure of what to expect from strikes and what exactly they deserve, according to the law.

“We don’t know what to do,” the Royal Angkor employee said, echoing other staff.

A former manager at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, who now manages a small hotel, restaurant and bar in Siem Reap, urged the government to send a letter to the hotels, stating clearly the amount of the service charge and what percentage of the charge each employee should get.

Workers at the Pansea Hotel, where negotiations ended after a brief strike on April 5 with the hotel agreeing to distribute a 5 percent service charge to workers, looked around furtively when asked about strikes and denied striking.

A manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a brief di­spute had been resolved earlier this month when the hotel agreed to list a 5 percent service charge on customers’ bills, all of which would be given to the staff. He said workers received that money in their March paychecks.

The manager added that Pansea workers did not strike outside the hotel, but “might have joined others somewhere else.”

Back in front of the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Leak Orm urged the hotel’s management to agree to give workers the service charge. She said she has worked as a gardener at the hotel for six years as a “casual” employee, earning $30 a month with no paid leave.

Despite receiving what he said were two telephone death threats from anonymous callers, Grand Hotel d’Angkor union president Pat Sambo said the hotel’s former workers will continue to demonstrate at their spot next to the river.

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