More NagaWorld Employees Detained by Cambodian Police as Strike Lingers

Posted on: February 23, 2022, 09:46h. 

Last updated on: February 23, 2022, 10:35h.

Cambodia continues to target employees involved in a strike of the NagaWorld casino since last month. In the latest move, police arrested over 100 striking workers, but used a different excuse for the crackdown.

NagaWorld Strike employees
Employees at Cambodia’s NagaWorld continue to strike. They are now in their second month, with police continuing to arrest more of the activists. (Image: Peoples Dispatch)

A strike that began last December should have been nothing more than a peaceful demonstration to highlight what employees asserted was unfair treatment. However, what resulted has become an international episode that even the United Nations has condemned.

More than 100 strikers from NagaWorld Casino were detained by police in Cambodia Monday and Tuesday, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). Instead of accusing the strikers of allegedly “endangering security,” as they have done previously, police accused them of violating COVID-19 protocols.

The strike is ongoing, as employees demand better wages and the reinstatement of jailed union leaders and 365 workers. Employees have accused the casino of unfairly targeting unionized employees when it began to make cuts because of the global pandemic.

Strikers Arrested for Health Protocols

On Monday, police arrested 64 employees. They added another 39 to the list on Tuesday. Two of the 64 tested positive for COVID-19 and had to quarantine, while the remaining 62 were released without issue. As of Tuesday evening, the second group was still in detention, according to RFA.

The strike is an illegal gathering, according to Cambodian authorities. They assert that foreign donors are supporting it as part of a larger plot against the government. Authorities warned them they could be charged with inciting social unrest in violation of Articles 494 and 495.

Officials at Phnom Penh’s City Hall ordered striking workers to end their demonstration earlier this month out of concern that they might spread COVID-19. Activists balked, arguing that the government was using the pandemic as an excuse to break up the peaceful demonstration.

Government Uses Scare Tactics Against Strikers

Authorities took the workers to the office of the Cambodian Women for Peace and Development, an allegedly abandoned NGO. Meach Srey Obun, one of the employees the police detained, told RFA that the facility had no running water and that it wasn’t in use by anyone.

Obun claimed that at least two workers were hurt when they were detained Tuesday morning. She added that security guards sexually assaulted workers by touching their breasts.

The employee stated that the strike continues because 11 union members (including leaders) are still in police detention.

We will continue to demand justice, and until justice [prevails], we will continue the demand,” said NagaWorld striker Meach Srey Obun.

Am Sam Ath, a representative of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights NGO, believes that the government should have stayed out of the dispute. He rejected the argument that the employees were detained over COVID-19. Ath pointed out that they had already completed mandatory quarantine procedures.

The NGO, along with other civil service organizations, have written an open letter to the authorities. In it, they request that they free all union members still held captive.

Cambodian authorities have charged union leaders and activists with “incitement to commit a felony.” No one has bought this, except the government. This, according to the NGO, sets a “dangerous precedent” and could lead to other employers ignoring labor laws.

For now, the strike continues, as does the police crackdown.