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Beer girls fight for their rights

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Beer promoters were encouraged by a government official to press on with their pursuit of higher pay yesterday, at the launch of a campaign to seek better working conditions for the sector. 

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At the launch of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation campaign, Ministry of Women’s Affairs undersecretary of state Hor Malin encouraged beer promoters to work together with their companies and the Ministry of Labour to increase their wages.

“I think it will be difficult, because what they [promoters] need is double, from US$50 to $140,” she said.

The CFCWF is advocating a wage increase from the current average of between $50 and $70 a month to $140, as part of a campaign that will target the big beer brands the girls work for and raise awareness about the exploitative working conditions of beer promoters.

Raising awareness

These issues have been gaining traction recently with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs producing commercials on respecting beer promoters, and a much-publicized concession of overtime wages to women promoting Cambrew and Angkor Beer, a Cambodian company partially owned by Carlsberg, after they went on strike last year.  

According to Ou Tepphallin, vice president of CFSWF, promoters’ low wages were at the root of the industry’s problems, as it compelled them to put up with abusive behaviour from customers in order to hit their sales targets.

In a 15-minute film being distributed online and in print as part of the campaign, Angkor Beer union leader Kong Sinoun said she concealed her job from her family for two years because she feared they would look down on her.

“I thought they would discriminate and hate me if they know I am a beer promoter,” she said, adding that beer promoters were perceived as “bad” people with loose morals because of how they had to entertain patrons.  

The film uses personal accounts of beer promoters to highlight their abuse and exploitation of the work.

Another woman in the film describes how clients sexually harass her: “They touch my body and say immoral things to me,” she says in the film.

"Genuine employees"

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said one of the key problems was that beer promoters were considered informal workers and the sector an informal one, and this resulted in a lack of advocacy for a living wage and safety in the workplace.

A provision on informal workers in the new trade union law expected within the next few months could help rectify that, he added.

“For the first time, informal workers will have the right to form trade unions and expand the application of trade union laws to the informal sector,” he said.

He also called for accountability from the local and international brands that the women were promoting.

“They need to be acknowledged as genuine employees, and more links made between them and beer brands that they’re advocating, so that if anything happens on the job, there is direct liability,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mom Kunthear at mom.kunthear@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Cassandra Yeap

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