Observers of the long-running dispute over hotel service charges hope a foreign mediator can bring management and union leaders to a compromise and avoid a repeat of the growing crisis at Raffles-owned hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
A professional Australian labor mediator will arrive in Phnom Penh later this week and broker talks between at least four luxury hotels and their unions. Workers staged a weeklong strike earlier this month to pressure their bosses to collect an automatic service charge and give some of it to their employees. The hotels balked and instead offered the workers fixed fees and other formulas.
Management and union leaders at Hotel Cambodiana, Hotel InterContinental, Sunway Hotel and Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap are expected to participate in the talks.
If mediation fails for those hotels, another Arbitration Council ruling will likely result in more litigation and rebelling workers, many say.
“This mediation represents the last, best chance at finding an amicable resolution to this dispute,” said Daniel Adler, a council adviser appointed by the International Labor Organization. “And I think the parties are at the point where they are ready for mediation.”
At the Raffles-owned hotels, where attempts at mediation failed after a Christmas Day strike, the service charge dispute has most recently led Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap and Raffles Le Royal to fire about 280 workers who participated in this month’s strikes.
Grand Hotel d’Angkor effectively suspended operations after the firings. Both hotels have pending court cases following Council rulings that the workers should be paid the service charge in full.
It is unclear if the Raffles hotels will take part in a new round of mediation. Management at the Grand Hotel referred questions Monday to their counterparts at Le Royal, who could not be reached for comment.
But union heads indicated Monday that they are open to compromise, saying they will enter negotiations demanding
70 percent of a 10 percent service charge, down from their earlier demand of 75 percent. Ly Korm, president of the Cambodia Tourism and Service Workers Federation, said Monday he was hopeful the talks will bypass a possible legal tangle.
“I prefer the mediation because after the hearing, the hotels never comply” with the council’s rulings, he said.
Many hotel owners admit the dispute is hurting business and say they are also eager to see resolution.
“I hope mediation will be successful,” Michel Horn, managing director at Hotel Cambodiana, said. “I hope everyone will bring a willingness to find a solution.”