NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

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Chhim Sithar was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. POLICE

Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Im Vannak ordered her arrest on November 26 as the 34-year-old left Cambodia without permission while under court supervision.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, confirmed that Sithar was being detained at Prey Sar.

He claimed that after Sithar was released on bail in January 2022, she and her defence lawyer were not notified of court supervision or tentative conditions such as travel restrictions. He indicated that a defence lawyer from LICADHO and Sithar's laywers plan to meet with her in prison on November 28.

“The re-arrest of Chhim Sithar constitutes a further threat and intimidation of the union at NagaWorld, especially threatening NagaWorld employees and former employees who are going on strike to demand a solution to labour disputes between the [casino] and the strikers,” he continued.

Sam Ath also said that a solution to the dispute should have been found rather than arresting her and using the judiciary to pressure the leaders of unions and the strikers. He said the arrest was an unjust restriction of the civic space and freedom of the unions and it restricted citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

Deputy prosecutor Plang Sophal said briefly on November 27 that he was not aware of the details of the case, while court spokesman Y Rin could not be reached for comment on November 27.

Sithar, along with other leaders of her union, was arrested in January 2022 for allegedly inciting social chaos when the NagaWorld employees went on strike to demand that the company rehire workers that it had laid off, and whom the unions said were targeted for their activism. But NagaWorld claimed that the layoffs were just casualties of the pandemic-related economic downturn.

They were held in prison for two months and then released on bail in March.

The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training said five more workers from NagaWorld who were involved in that dispute have now accepted seniority payments to put an end to their employment dispute with the company.

In a press release, the ministry said five additional workers have asked that Minister of Interior Sar Kheng intervene to secure their seniority payments and put an end to their employment contracts under the labour law so that they can search for new job opportunities and resume earning regular incomes to provide for their families.

The press release read that ministry officials had checked and verified the workers’ eligibility for seniority payments with the company. The officials found that the payments were in line with the law and standard documents associated with the termination of employment.

“As of today, a total of 249 of the 373 employees have now accepted their seniority payments to put an end to their employment contracts with the company. Another 124 employees have still refused to accept the seniority payments,” it noted.

The National Employment Agency (NEA) has said it is prepared to help coordinate the search for new job opportunities for the former workers.