An unresolved labor dispute inside Phnom Penh’s Raffles Hotel Le Royal and Siem Reap’s Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor has raised allegations of police intervention and intimidation against union members at the Siem Reap hotel.
Members of the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor Employees Unions in both cities are scheduled to stage a Christmas Eve strike today to protest months of failed negotiations over pay and working conditions, union members said.
Tensions surrounding the labor dispute came to a head Monday morning in Siem Reap, when provincial police officers were deployed to the hotel to diffuse a possible strike. The strike did not take place.
Union officials now are accusing the Singaporean-owned hotel of paying police to intimidate workers.
“The employers use money with the police to stop us,” said Sar Sereyvuth, union president at the Siem Reap Raffles.
He said police called a union adviser into the Slor Kram commune station last Sunday to
question him about the strike. Also last week, police visited a union leader’s home for a “background check,” he said.
“They [police] said if you do this [strike], you must be careful of your friends,” Sar Sereyvuth alleged the police said.
Kan Sambath, Siem Reap provincial deputy police chief, said he ordered at least 30 police officers to prepare for a strike on Monday, and deployed 10 officers to sit outside the hotel to watch for trouble. He denied approaching any union members.
“We didn’t go to the union chief’s house to threaten them,” he said.
Theng Chantharith, Siem Reap district police chief, said a union leader visited his station Tuesday morning to report a lost mobile phone. Police questioned the member about the strike and advised him not to be so tough with the hotel, Theng Chantharith said.
Clarence Tan, manager of the Siem Reap Raffles hotel, laughed at the prospect of paying police to intervene in the dispute.
“No. That would be illegal,” he said, adding that he did not request the police’s presence at the hotel on Monday either.
“Everyone is happy. The workers are happy. They don’t want to strike,” he said.
But In Khemara, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ inspections chief, said Tuesday evening that strikes at both hotels were to progress as scheduled.
He attributed the standoff to disagreements between managers and unions over life insurance, compensation for on-the-job injury or death, and the service charge.
Failed attempts at collective bargaining have been ongoing since July in Siem Reap and have attracted the attention of CPP parliamentarian Saing Nam, who owns two hotels in Siem Reap, Sar Sereyvuth said. Saing Nam has sat in on recent negotiations.
“It involves all of the most powerful men in Siem Reap,” he said. But, he added, workers won’t wait any longer to strike, as managers now are insisting on breaking the law.
More than 300 Siem Reap hotel workers are due to gather in the hotel canteen in a peaceful demonstration today, he said.
“The employers now say they won’t collect a service charge for the workers,” Sar Sereyvuth said. “They want to change the law, so we can’t do anything.”
Tan confirmed that the Siem Reap Raffles would no longer include service charges on the bill and would encourage patrons to tip workers accordingly.
The labor law is unclear on the necessity of service charges, In Khemara said.
The International Union of Food Workers-Asia and Pacific—an international federation comprised of 330 trade union organizations in 126 countries—criticized the hotels’ failure to bargain in good faith on Tuesday.
A faxed statement from the international trade union said it was greatly concerned that workers have had to resort to strikes due to the managers’ failure to bargain fairly.
“We feel that it would be such a shame, if for want of willingness to respect and to negotiate seriously with the union in good faith, the management of your hotel becomes embroiled in protracted disputes that involve nation-wide and global support activities by both the Cambodian Federation and the IUF,” said IUF representative Ma Wei Pin in the statement.
The IUF became involved in the dispute at the urging of Cambodia’s Tourism and Service Workers Federation, the largest union in the country to jointly represent hotel, airport and casino workers. The Raffles unions are members of this federation.
Stephan Gnaegi, manager of the Phnom Penh Raffles, declined to comment Tuesday.