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Cambodians Cry Foul As Casino Slashes Redundancy Pay Due to COVID-19


A boy in roller skates crosses a street in an area of the NagaWorld Casino buildings in Phnom Penh on March 25, 2021. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP)

With plunging profits, Cambodia's largest casino is set to slash 1,300 jobs and pay redundant staff a fraction of the severance money they are legally owed, the workers' union and advocates said, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens labor laws worldwide.

NagaWorld resort - with almost 1,700 luxury rooms, themed gaming halls, karaoke lounges, spas and an underground shopping centre in the capital, Phnom Penh - told more than 15% of staff this month that they will be laid off in the next few weeks.

Redundant staff will lose tens of thousands of dollars as severance packages will be calculated based on reduced wages in 2020 and using government guidelines introduced to help businesses hit by the pandemic, the union said.

"Workers risked their safety to make profits for NagaWorld during the pandemic and then when they need help, they are abandoned," union leader Chhim Sithar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We are asking for support and they have responded with the idea of mass layoffs. It's extremely disappointing," she said, adding that NagaWorld's plans breach labor laws as redundancies should take into account seniority and length of service.

NagaWorld declined to comment.

Activists and academics have warned of a rollback of labor rights globally with the pandemic, as companies can capitalize on soaring unemployment to coerce workers to accept worse terms and conditions.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, many countries have eased regulations on business to support the private sector at the expense of workers' rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation.

PROFITS

Cambodia had one of the world's lowest numbers of COVID-19 infections but cases are now at their peak, with 82 deaths and 11,000 cases since the pandemic began.

NagaWorld was allowed to remain open for most of 2020, only closing from April to July. But with inbound tourism decimated and gambling illegal for Cambodian nationals, NagaWorld profits dropped to $102 million in 2020 from $521 million in 2019.

The casino resort, which has exclusive gaming rights in Phnom Penh, suspended operations again last month after several staff tested positive for coronavirus. The city went into a two-week lockdown on April 15.

After Cambodia's vital garment sector stalled last year, the labor ministry outlined relief measures for employers facing layoffs and shutdowns, including suspension of long-service bonuses and other staff entitlements.

Those measures - along with NagaWorld using reduced salaries from 2020 as the basis for calculating long-term severance packages - fly in the face of Cambodia's labor law, said Khun Tharo of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights.

"It undermines basic rights that workers are entitled to," said Tharo, a program manager with the advocacy group.

The labor ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

Allowing the casino - whose Malaysian CEO and founder has donated $10 million to the government's COVID-19 fund to purchase vaccines - to slash severance payments would set a dangerous precedent, campaigners said.

"NagaWorld profits, but the workers go hungry? If they get away with this, it would encourage employers across sectors to do the same," said Tharo.

For Som Channmony, termination with a slashed severance would be an insult. With 25 years of service and accrued benefits, she sees herself as a likely target.

The 42-year-old, who is the main provider for her mother, niece and nephew, fears she could lose up to half of some $10,000 she believes she is entitled to.

"My situation is not so bad but my co-workers are suffering - many of them have already run out of money to feed their families," she said.

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