Photo depicting LRSU workers in blue t-shirts seated on white cloth-covered chairs waiting for a press conference to begin. Media representatives with cameras and phones wait in the back of the room.

OPINION: Why Casino Workers Are on Strike in Cambodia — and How You Can Help

by Polly Woodbury


Nearly every business in the world has been affected by COVID-19. Undoubtedly, it has been a difficult time to navigate successful operations. However, when a multimillion-dollar company unilaterally terminates 1,329 workers — and nearly 1,100 of them are union leaders, members, and activists — this is not a means of adjusting payroll, it’s an atrocious act of union-busting.

This is what one of the most successful casinos in the world, NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, committed against the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) in April 2021. Despite LRSU’s attempts to collectively bargain to find a solution for all sides, these efforts were rebuffed and the dispute remains unresolved.

As a result of NagaWorld’s refusal to negotiate in good faith, LRSU began a peaceful strike on Dec. 18, which was immediately declared illegal — despite following all required protocols. Events escalated with 29 workers arrested between Dec. 31, 2021, and Jan. 4, 2022, including LRSU president, Chhim Sithar, who was put in a headlock by plainclothes police and violently forced into a car. Nine workers have been charged, with one on bail and eight still in detention.

Since then, NagaWorld issued a public statement on Jan. 23 regarding the mass layoffs, claiming economic hardships and denying anti-union sentiments. In response, LRSU held a press conference countering NagaWorld’s statement which was observed by local media outlets and civil society organizations on Jan. 28. The 60 workers read their clarification letter and requested authorities intervene to seek win-win solutions.

The arrests and undue interference of the authorities in the LRSU peaceful assembly is a violation of basic human, labor, and union rights. Protected under ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, strike and labor protests are legitimate rights and essential means for workers to defend their economic and social interests. 

LRSU has three primary demands:

  1. That the eight jailed unionists are released and all charges against them dropped.
  2. That the 365 workers are reinstated.
  3. That NagaWorld negotiates in good faith with the union. LRSU, however, will not agree to negotiations with the company until all individuals are released.

In solidarity with the LRSU worker struggle, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) is organizing a national campaign to call on NagaCorp and the government of Cambodia to meet LRSU’s demands. The solidarity actions kicked off on Feb. 2 with a virtual webinar with LRSU activists that aimed to raise awareness and mobilize action. 

A Global Day of Action will take place Monday, Feb. 7, at various Cambodian diplomatic missions around the world. Locally, APALA is organizing an in-person rally and letter drop off at the Consulate of Cambodia, (1818 Westlake Ave. N. #315) on Monday at 2 p.m. Please wear blue! RSVP with the Seattle APALA chapter at apalawa@gmail.com.

You can support by signing the petition to release jailed union leaders and drop all charges unconditionally at bit.ly/SupportLRSU 

LRSU is admired by Cambodia’s labor movement and is well respected in the international community as a representative and democratic union with a history of members winning struggles for better pay and conditions.

“Many of our local chapter members are hospitality workers just like our Cambodian labor siblings,” said Eunice How, APALA Seattle chapter president and APALA National Executive Board member. “The hospitality industry is one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and there can be no equitable economic recovery without workers leading the way. We reject using the pandemic as an excuse to bust the union. Solidarity with LRSU across the ocean!”

Follow #LaborRightsKH for more info and updates.


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The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.


Polly Woodbury is a member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance’s (APALA) Seattle chapter and a former intern at the Solidarity Center’s (the largest U.S.-based international worker rights organization) office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She recently graduated from the UW Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health (Dept. of Global Health) concurrent degree program with an International Development Certificate. Polly was awarded the esteemed Husky 100 award in recognition of her involvement and contribution to the social advancements in the field of labor rights in Cambodia as a student researcher and practitioner. Polly is from Tacoma, WA, and a proud first-generation Khmer American.

📸 Featured Image is from Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) press conference last month. Photo courtesy of Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Seattle chapter.

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