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Casino operator NagaCorp faces wage dispute amid profit windfall

Hong Kong-based operator planning $3.5bn expansion as union calls for 'living wages'

Officials from Cambodia's Labor Ministry are mediating a wage dispute between NagaCorp and its workers union. (Photo by Masayori Ishikawa)

PHNOM PENH -- Casino operator NagaCorp is under fire from labor rights groups after suspending a union leader amid an escalating dispute over pay and working conditions.

The Hong Kong-listed company, which runs the NagaWorld and Naga 2 casino and hotel complexes in Phnom Penh, on Monday sent representatives to meet union members from the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World.

The meeting took place at the Labor Ministry, whose officials are mediating the dispute.

The union, which says it represents about 4,000 workers, is demanding pay rises from the company, which has announced plans for a $3.5 billion new complex in the Cambodian capital and is on an earnings hot streak.

According to an interim report, the company ended the first half of 2019 with a net profit of $245.1 million, a 36% increase over the same period of last year. Its gross gaming revenue (GGR) rose by 22% to $872.4 million.

The union wants employees to share some of the benefit from these record profits. It has requested the base salary for staff in the hotel department, who currently make between $191 and $230 a month, be raised to $300. For staff in the gaming section, paid between $230 and $370, the union has demanded a $500 base salary.

The situation became more strained when the company suspended president of the union, Chhim Sithar, last month.

Sithar had printed and distributed T-shirts with a slogan in Khmer that translates to "The Company is growing; workers need living wages." She was suspended after stepping in when security guards tried to confiscate a T-shirt from an employee.

The decision sparked a joint statement by 24 unions and civil society groups condemning the suspension. They said the move contravened Cambodia's Labor Law because Sithar was suspended "without just cause" while exercising her "fundamental rights" as a union leader.

On Monday, Sithar told the Nikkei Asian Review that the company's annual wage rises have not kept up with workers' cost of living. She said employees also want working on public holidays to be voluntary.

The union is also demanding the dismissal of a member of management they claim uses abusive language to staff, as well as Sithar's reinstatement.

"When you earn a lot and pay your workers less, this is called exploitation," Sithar said, adding the union would first seek a resolution at the country's Arbitration Council but were prepared to strike if that avenue was exhausted.

"They keep telling people that they pay higher than the minimum wage of the garment factories, but they never compare the income of the factories and their income."

A spokesperson for Naga did not respond to a request for comment by press time. The case is not the first time casino operator has clashed with its workers. In 2013, Naga fired then rehired 400 staff amid a pay dispute.

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