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Outlaw Raffles Again Flouts Cambodian Law, Walks out of Arbitration

Posted to the IUF website 24-May-2004

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Management of the Singapore-based Raffles Hotel group again confirmed its arrogance and determination to operate above the law when Raffles representatives walked out of meetings held under the auspices of the Cambodian Arbitration Council on May 19. Since May 17, the hotel had been in arbitration over the firing of some 100 members of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers' Federation (CTSWF) who took part in the peaceful April 5-12 walkout at the Phnom Penh Raffles Le Royale (for full background information click here).

The three-member arbitration council concluded that the creation of a phony "union" to supplant the CTSWF, and the announcement of a hastily improvised "collective agreement" with the paper organization, fell within the scope of the arbitration hearings. They ordered the hotel to produce documents concerning the "election" of worker delegates as well as copies of the "agreement" they signed. Raffles manager Stephen Gnaeggi was ordered to appear as a witness on the afternoon of the 19th.

Rather than comply with these legal requirements Raffles walked out of the arbitration hearings.

This isn't the first time Raffles has flouted the law. For years, they pocketed the service charge collected from all customers rather than distributing it in full, on a monthly basis, to employees. When the Arbitration Council ordered Raffles on January 7 to distribute the service charge fees, they instead abolished service charge collection. They fired 300 workers from their two Cambodian hotels in retaliation for a peaceful industrial action. Raffles has made clear its intention not to rehire illegally fired union members: Raffles head Markland Blaiklock told the Financial Times "We know who is who."

On May 7, Raffles Grand management in Siem Riep ordered the union's office in the hotel emptied of union records as sacked unionists continued their picket outside. The hotel's personnel manager took charge of the operation, while police prevented union officers from access to their office.

Raffles then set up yellow employee organizations, announced that new "collective agreements" had been concluded at their two properties and informed the press that the dispute was over.

The dispute is far from over. The CTSWF continues to picket outside the two outlaw hotels. International support for the embattled union is growing. On May 14, US Congressman George Miller wrote an open letter to Raffles CEO Jennie Chua Keng Yeng, stating that "The practice of undercutting a lawful strike by signing an agreement with a 'friendly' union is a familiar tactic, but one which is illegal and ill serves both Cambodia's hotel workers and the international reputation of Raffles."