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.