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Angkor restorers ink first bargaining pact

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Tourists visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province last year. Ongoing restoration work can be seen in the background. Photograph: Naw Say Phaw Waa/Phnom Penh Post

Under the shade of Angkor’s canopies and twisted Banyan trees, more than 100 restoration workers watched yesterday afternoon as union delegates signed their first collective bargaining agreement, in what union advocates say should set a precedent for Cambodia’s construction industry.

Over the past two years, the workers had campaigned for insurance that would cover injury and illness, union rights, wages and other benefits.

Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said the workers had formed the independent Angkor Preservation Workers Union in 2010 and had waited a long time to collectively bargain with employer the World Monuments Fund.

Based in New York, the WMF has been in Cambodia for more than 20 years and preserves the iconic Angkor Wat and other temples such as Phnom Bakheng and Preah Khan.

Welsh said all 123 workers had voted unanimously for the agreement, signed and ratified inside the temple complex.

“This is such an important day. We’ve witnessed a big international organisation sit down with a small independent Cambodian trade union.

“This will mean wage increases, job security, maternity benefits, health care provisions; it  solidifies ... leaves and benefits. It’s big, big news,” he said.

Van Thol, vice president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, of which the APWU is part, said wages would increase from $79 to $90 per month.

Christina Grosse, WMF-legal consultant, said while the agreement was positive, negotiating had been difficult due to the volume of APWU demands.

“In the long term, the unions need to target Cambodian employers also … everybody has the belief they will get more from a foreign employer,” she said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Claire Knox and Mom Kunthear at newsroom@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Shane Worrell

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