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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Life as a Cyclo Driver

Life as a Cyclo Driver

The career of cyclo driving has existed for as long as anybody can remember in Cambodia.

So much so that these often wizen faced men and their three-wheeled machines have

become a part of the landscape of many of the cities and towns throughout the country.

Over numerous generations, cyclo drivers have been regarded as free workers, because

the people who do this business are bound by few of the regulations and strictures

that control the lives of most working people. They can stop or take a holiday any

time they wish without anybody caring for or limiting their freedom.

Moreover, for many regimes they have not had any proper rules governing their work-the

drivers have needed no papers or driving license nor are they required to report

to anybody. The cyclo drivers can enjoy their low priority the same as the palm tree

climbers did in the French colonial days-they had no cards nor were they required

to pay taxes.

Yet, we have noticed that there are very few people who take this career for life.

People often go into this job to earn more money for their living once their farming

duties are finished for the year.

Most of the people who come to the city to sell their labor are from the nearby provinces

of Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Takeo and Kompong Speu.

Through interviews with a number of cyclo drivers, it becomes apparent that their

daily wage is not regular nor is it plentiful. Many drivers said they end the day

with only enough money to pay for their three meals.

Every 10 or 15 days, the cyclo drivers will go home to visit their families with

whatever money they can save and after a four or five day holiday they will comeback

and resume their pushing and peddling.

Some of the drivers complain that they can never become rich. Although they don't

have to invest any capital, making money this way is very hard; people have to rely

on their physical strength.

As for the cyclo-drivers who choose this business for their life's work, their living

conditions, are little different.

An old man with a gray beard we met in front of the Monorom Hotel said it is not

necessary to use a lot of labor if you know how to attract customers.

"In the Sihanouk regime, I only gave lifts to foreign customers and made a lot

of money; at that time I could feed my wife and children the same as the others-I

could have an easy life in town. But, because more and more people are taking this

business, so my income has dropped substantially," said the driver, who looked

to have worked in this field for a couple of generations.

He said that without other income channels he cannot afford the costs of daily living.

But he also said he had been in the business too long to change now.

Despite the fact that this job is very hard, poverty has forced many Khmer people

to do it.

If we want to see the number of cyclo drivers decline, then the countryside agriculturural

sector has to be developed and jobs created there.

It should be noted that, there are estimated to be some 12,000 cyclo-drivers currently

working the streets of Phnom Penh. It is only an estimate because their are no controls

on the workers. At present, no social bodies are responsible to assure their welfare.

Even during the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, we had an associatison of porters, but not

for the cyclo-drivers.

- This article was translated by Moeun Chhean Nariddh from the Khmer language

newspaper, Reasmey Kampuchea.

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