More than 2,000 workers at six of the country’s luxury hotels went on strike Monday to demand revenue from service charges, prompting an altercation with police in Siem Reap and angering hotel owners who say the unions refuse to negotiate.
“We were all in front of the door and they chose to strike,” Pierre Bernard, general manager of the Hotel Cambodiana, said Monday. “We want to negotiate.”
The day ended with hotels agreeing to reinstate the service charge, but the crucial issue of how much of the service charge would go to the workers remained unresolved. No negotiations were scheduled Monday and workers planned to resume striking today.
The unions’ gripe with hotel owners began late last year, when they went on strike to demand that hotels pay them all the revenue generated by service charges, which typically amount to 10 percent of the final bill. After the government ordered, earlier this year, that money earned from service charges go to hotel workers, hotels dropped the service charges altogether.
That prompted the latest round of strikes, as unions demanded that hotels reinstate the service charge and workers receive 75 percent of it—less than the 90 percent they originally requested. A last ditch effort to resolve the issue last Friday failed after a Social Affairs Ministry official did not attend a meeting between the hotel association and the unions.
Workers at the Hotel InterContinental, Hotel Cambodiana and Raffles Le Royal Hotel in Phnom Penh and the Pansea Angkor Hotel, Grand Hotel d’Angkor and Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel in Siem Reap went on strike Monday.
Sunway Hotel employees planned to go on strike Monday, but backed off because they were scared of being fired, the hotel’s union president, Dam Sophat, said Monday. Hotel management agreed to reinstate the service charge and will meet with the union on Thursday to discuss how much of it will go to the workers, he said.
Outside the Grand Hotel d’Angkor, police clashed with hotel workers after the workers torched six tires. Policeman wielding electric batons beat two of the workers as they chased them away from the fire, alleged the hotel’s union president, Pap Sambo.
Police accused the hotel workers of throwing rocks at them when a fire truck pulled up to extinguish the flames. They denied using force.
“We had a confrontation with the workers but we did not beat them,” said Phean Arun, Siem Reap district police chief.
In Phnom Penh, the strikes were more peaceful. At least 100 workers shouted outside the Hotel Cambodiana, holding banners that read “No Service Charge, No Working.”
At Raffles Le Royal Hotel, nearly 50 workers stood outside, wearing makeshift bandannas with slogans such as “Service Charges Belong To Us” written on them.
Midway through the day Monday, the tourism and social affairs ministries released a joint directive ordering hotels to resume collecting service charges, but it did not specify how much of the service charge should go to the workers.
Asked why the directive did not include that crucial provision, Houd Chanthy, director of labor inspection at the Social Affairs Ministry, said “I cannot explain” and hung up the phone.
“It is powerless and unclear,” Ly Korm, president of the Cambodia Tourism and Service Workers Federation, said of the directive. “We will continue to strike until there is an acceptable solution.”
Tek Ket, president of the Phnom Penh Hotel Association, said that hotels would comply with the directive. Twenty to 30 percent of the service charge would go to the workers, he said, and the rest would be used to buy clothes, shoes and health insurance for the workers.
“We cannot offer the workers much more than that because the workers’ salaries in the hotels is high compared to other workers,” Tek Ket said.
Hotel owners also want the service charge to applied to every hotel, not just the five-star hotels the unions have been targeting.
“There should be no double standards,” Bernard said. “It should be the same across the country.”
An Asian diplomat familiar with the negotiations said that the union demands come at a time when most of the luxury hotels are hurting financially, with occupancy rates lingering at about 30 to 40 percent.
“In tough times, you expect everyone to pull together,” he said. “But that has not been the case.”
Tek Ket did not seem optimistic that a compromise would be reached soon.
“The hotels and the union have met more than 20 times already, but it was a waste of time,” he said.