Tien Vireak was standing alone in the dark, sleepily holding his umbrella. As a security guard, his job is to stay awake when everyone else is sleeping.
He is only 24, but would be happy to take off his uniform and find a better job.
For people like Vireak, however, this is the only option.
“I don’t have a high level education,” he said. “I am also the son of a farmer.”
With a salary ranging from US$90 to $100 per month, his job requires a high level of responsibility and courage.
“As a security guard, I have to work alone every night, standing in front of the company from 6pm until 6am,” Vireak said. “I cannot even think of falling asleep, I am too afraid someone will rob something, like a car or other things that the company owns. If that happened, I wouldn’t be able to pay the company back for what was lost.”
This is a lesson Vireak learnt in the past, when he lost a phone battery and $27 was deducted from his already poor salary.
To make his job even harder, gang violence can be dangerous at night and bad weather very unpleasant.
In order to send support to their families who live in the countryside, workers have to make many sacrifices, especially by saving up on rent and food. This usually leads to poor hygienic living conditions and unhealthy diets unable to provide the basic nutritional elements to keep the strength to work.
Kuy Im, a 31-year-old factory worker, makes an average of $70 a month. In order to survive, he has to cut his daily ration of food. Needless to say, eating boiled rice (around 1000 riel, or twenty-five cents a cup) every day might be good for his wallet, but dangerous for his health.
Workers are also being put in danger because of unsafe working practices. Last month, The Post reported that 107 factory employees who were sent to hospital after fainting due to protracted exposure to poisoning chemicals while manufacturing gloves.
“I have been working in a factory for 10 years,” Im said. “But I am still concerned about my Chinese bosses’ attitude. They just don’t care, for them workers are worth nothing. They do nothing else except blame us and look down on us, even when we are right.”
Unlike factory workers, construction workers might not be exposed to toxic or poisonous chemicals, but their work place is not much safer. Without the proper protection and equipment, a construction site can easily become lethal.
“Carrying heavy stuff is not a problem,” Bun Thoeurn, 31, who started working for a construction company at the age of 15, said. “It’s the lack of protection that worries me. Dying just like that, it just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Thoeurn has been fortunate enough not to get injured so far. But witnessing people falling from buildings or being hit by electric shocks tells him how easily these things can happen without safety measures.
Many construction workers get injured in road accidents while moving from one building site to another. On top of that, if injured, their salary is often too low to cover the medical expenses.
Bun Ying, Communications Officer of the International Labour Organization in Cambodia, also expressed his concern about the risks these workers have to face daily.
“Although working conditions have been improved recently, there are still a lot of challenges for workers. Health problems and poor safety at work are examples that prove that the quality of their working conditions is still not high enough if compared with what they earn,” Ying Said.
Although the textile industry is booming, and more factories are being built every day, companies still don’t consider their worker’s health and safety as a fundamental issue, he added.
In order to achieve higher productivity however, benefits are important. Not only will that attract workers but it will motivate them to produce more and want to keep their job. With better working policies, companies would also gain a better reputation in the market, Ying explained.
But for the moment, current working conditions only make workers want to leave and try to find something else.
“When I’ll have enough savings I will start my own business,” Vireak said. “I want to guarantee an appropriate standard of living for myself, one that a worker like me doesn’t have the privilege to access.”