Cambodia Tells Chinese Casinos Not to Force Staff to Work After One Dies of COVID

Authorities in Cambodia’s coastal city Sihanoukville have threatened to take legal action against casinos and other businesses that force staff to work during the pandemic, after employees accused a Chinese-owned casino of forcing people infected with the coronavirus to keep working.

After one of the sick laborers at The Century Casino died, her family asked authorities to order the Chinese owner to pay them compensation for forcing the woman to continue working while ill, said Ros Leng, cousin of worker Hean Sreynich.

A doctor told the family that the women who died Thursday at the casino had contracted the COVID-19 virus five days earlier and had died of food poisoning and dehydration, he told RFA.

The casino did not inform the family about Hean Sreynich’s death or offer to pay them her salary, he said.

The family learned about her death from her coworkers, Ros Leng said.

“We should like the casino to resolve the issue and to give us compensation,” he said.

RFA could not reach the casino’s human resources manager to comment on the matter.

News that some of the casino’s 437 workers had contracted the virus spread after a group of employees livestreamed videos on Facebook on Thursday.

They said they were forced to perform their jobs, including managing online gambling platforms, while they were ill and that they had been forced to remain inside the building since March without any treatment.

On Sept. 25, the workers called on the provincial labor department to order the casino operator to stop forcing them to work.

Authorities banned the casino from asking employees to work while they were in quarantine, with provincial governor Kouch Chamroeun on Monday warning hotels and casinos not to use forced labor.

“To avoid labor disputes and to avoid forced labor that leads to human trafficking and prostitution and to exploited labor, Sihanoukville provincial authorities have issued strict measures banning forced labor, employing workers in exchange for paying off their debs, fake marriages, producing pornography, and illegal detention,” the governor said in a statement.

“Provincial authorities will take action against any casinos or hotels that detain or force workers to work or [engage in] illegal trafficking,” he said.

Authorities would shut down any business that violates the directive, prosecute the owners, and revoke their operating licenses, Kouch Chamroeun added.

A casino employee who declined to be named out of fear of retribution said the authorities sent two nurses to the casino to distribute medicine after the Facebook video the workers made went viral.

“The treatment we received is acceptable, but we don’t know if this will change in the future. Right now authorities are paying attention to us. There is some improvement needed, but it is acceptable,” she said.

Yow Khemara, director of the Department of Labor and Vocational Training in Preah Sihanouk province, told RFA that medical professionals have provided treatment and medicine to the more than 200 workers who have the COVID-19 virus. He also confirmed that one employee had died.

“Right now, we have doctors stationed there during the day because casino employees have complained,” he said. “We also are giving them four meals daily.”

Chinese investment has flowed into Sihanoukville in recent years, bringing dozens of Chinese-owned casinos and other businesses.

While the businesses create jobs for Cambodians, many complain about what they see as unscrupulous business practices, criminal activities, and unbecoming behavior by Chinese businessmen, residents, and tourists alike.

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