Each day Chheang Neath climbs high up the NagaCorp construction site near Phnom Penh's
Hun Sen park, to erect scaffolding for the completion of the massive casino and hotel
Neath, 22, from Prey Veng, came to the capital five months ago to look for work.
His only experience in construction was on small-scale building sites in his home
province. He received no training before starting work at the NagaCorp site.
Just prior to Khmer New Year, Neath saw a friend and colleague fall 14 floors to
Now, he has doubts about his job.
"I do not want to work as a construction worker because it's too dangerous,"
he said. "I feel very nervous when I am climbing up to erect the scaffold but
I have no other choice because I don't have any other job to do."
Fuelled by increased tourism and investment, construction has been a boom industry
in Cambodia's urban centers for the past half decade, but the rapid growth has outpaced
regulatory controls. Now, the leaders of the Kingdom's two construction unions are
appealing to the government and NGOs to set guidelines for the sector that employs
as many as 200,000 Cambodians.
Sok Sovandeith, president of the Cambodian National Federation of Building and Wood
Construction (CNFBWC), said in Phnom Penh alone some 50 construction workers are
injured each day and at least one worker dies each week.
According to Van Thol, president of the Siem Reap-based Cambodian Construction Workers
Trade Union Federation (CCTUF), about 10 construction workers are injured each day.
"And sometimes workers die," Thol said. "They die from electric shocks,
falling from high places, or [equipment] falling on them."
Sovandeith and Van Thol said they relied on the construction workers to inform them
of injuries or deaths because the building companies kept such incidents silent.
Sovandeith added that Cambodia does not have adequate laws to protect and compensate
"I would like the Ministry of Labor to inspect the construction sites to see
the real working conditions of construction workers," he said. "They are
faced with high danger, low wages and the threat of being fired all the time."
Oum Mean, under secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training,
said although there was no law dealing specifically with construction, any problems
could be dealt with under the labor law.
"We have a labor law and any issues relating to the contract between the employer
and employee we can handle through the labor law," he said.
But Sovandeith said there needs to be industry specific regulations. He said most
construction companies do not train workers before they start and most do not provide
adequate protective equipment.
"Now we are urging the government to issue an announcement or form regulations
about construction workers' wages and work conditions," Sovandeith said. "Especially
work safety, because workers get injured everyday and no one is held responsible."
Sovandeith said most male construction workers were paid 8,000 riel per day, while
females were paid 7,000 riel. He said the workers often worked overtime and on holidays,
but they were not compensated accordingly. He said if they refused to work extra
hours they would be fired.
Hun Ken, 36, also works at the NagaCorp site. Like Neath, he arrived at the site
from Prey Veng and said about 200 workers had been injured since he started working
there five months ago.
"When a worker gets injured, the construction company takes them to hospital
to be treated," he said. "When that worker returns to work, the company
cuts 20 percent each day off that worker's wage until the amount of money they spent
for treating that worker is repaid."
Both Ken and Neath are paid 10,500 riel per day. They said it's money enough to make
a living for themselves - but not to support a family.
Neath said that when his friend died the family was given $3000. He now climbs with
a protective belt but said he is still nervous and afraid he would fall.
"I would like to have more training so that I feel safer when I am high up on
the building," he said.