The iron gates of Phnom Penh’s Raffles Hotel Le Royal were chained shut Wednesday morning as striking workers demanded fair treatment and pay outside the holiday-decked compound.
The Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor Employees Union staged strikes at its Phnom Penh and Siem Reap hotels to protest months of failed negotiations over contracts and management’s promise to abolish service charges.
In Siem Reap, some 250 employees slowed operations at Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor, where about 30 military police blocked the road and watched the protest from a distance, said Sar Sereyvuth, the hotel’s union president.
In Phnom Penh, a handful of military police lounged on motorbikes, as nearly 100 strikers whooped excitedly as guests entered and left the hotel.
One placard posted by workers read: “Happy Christmas! This is the third time we’re striking!”
Sray Chandara, vice president of the Hotel Le Royal union, said workers would remain calm—for now.
“We will stand here until there’s a solution,” he said. “But after three days, we will burn tires until the smokes goes into the hotel.”
An MPA Security officer said, on condition of anonymity, that he chained the gates to prevent outsiders from entering and looting the building. He said managers had asked him only to keep the strike quiet and peaceful.
The unions planned their protest for Christmas Eve—an important Western holiday that can generate thousands of dollars in income for hotels—in a bid to strengthen their bargaining power.
But the strategy appeared to have failed Wednesday evening.
In Khemara, Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ inspections chief, confirmed that negotiations had failed
He said two sticking points remained at Hotel Le Royal: Service charges and workers’ compensation for on-the-job injury or death.
Workers want to receive the 10 percent service charge attached to bills for services rendered. Employees say management keep the money.
The Cambodian labor law states that service charges shall be divided by all employees who service customers. It is against the law for managers to withhold the service charge.
Hotel Le Royal General Manager Stephan Gnaegi said Wednesday that employees do receive the service charge. He would not say how much they are paid.
Sar Sereyvuth said Raffles Grand employees receive only 1 percent to 2 percent of the service charge.
Clarence Tan, the Siem Reap hotel manager, said Tuesday that workers now receive a service charge, but will not next month. The hotel will eliminate the charge and encourage patrons to tip workers, Tan said.
The Siem Reap Provincial Court, at the request of the hotel, invited workers and hotel representatives to negotiate at a hearing on Wednesday. Workers did not appear, and the court ordered them to return to their posts and hold discussions in the meantime, said So Vat, provincial prosecutor.
Sar Sereyvuth called the court summons inappropriate and intimidating.
Workers held a strike at the historic Hotel Le Royal in 1999, when employees torched tires to demand a fair portion of the service charge. The four-day walk out ended when managers agreed to pay workers a monthly bonus.
On Wednesday, some Hotel Le Royal guests watched the disturbance with bewilderment through the front glass doors. Others, like the lone sunbather with no pool attendants, were not aware that anything was wrong.
Freir Morris of Switzerland said he encouraged the strike, despite his initial nervousness.
“In most countries, workers would be afraid to lose their jobs,” he said. “I think they’re in the right to do this.” Morris said his opinion of Raffles would not be affected by the workers’ allegations of unfair treatment.
Singaporean April Lai thought it strange that few staff had catered to her breakfast needs Wednesday morning.
“The level of service will be compromised for the price we pay,” she said. “Maybe we won’t get clean sheets.”
An employee greeting customers at the concierge desk said he reported to work Wednesday to keep the hotel running. Fully paralyzing the hotel would be a loss for all parties, he said.
“We just do one with, and one against—then we win,” he said. “If we all go, the hotel shuts down completely.”
The Arbitration Council—designed to moderate collective disputes—is scheduled to hear the case on Friday, In Khemara said. (Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)