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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Construction workers lament pay gap, labour laws

Construction workers try to navigate doing their jobs on a building site without getting injured.
Construction workers try to navigate doing their jobs on a building site without getting injured. Pha Lina

Construction workers lament pay gap, labour laws

Cambodia’s construction industry may be one of the fastest growing sources of employment, however many workers remain unhappy with the labour laws governing the sector. The concern is compounded for female employees, with some workers expressing to Post Property frustration over wage disparities.

Chak Yeoun, a 30-year old construction worker who has worked mainly in the area of steel binding for the past ten years, said her male counterparts are generally better remunerated than the female workers on construction sites.

“As a female construction worker, we face both light and heavy duty jobs under the same harsh climate as the men, but we generally get less daily fees than they do.”

“Male workers get about 28,000 riel per day, but female workers only get about 20,000 to 22,000 riel,” she said, adding “we have tried to ask for more money from contractors and payroll clerks, but they claim that we don’t do the same amount of work as the guys.”

From her experience working in the construction sector, Yeoun says female workers do a range of duties such as arrange tiles, mix cement and carry heavy material such as steel.

“Sometimes we even work longer hours than the guys but the head of the big [construction] companies and contractors won’t admit it,” Yeoun claimed.

According to Yeoun, there are also disrepensices in employment arrangements and entitlements when working in the construction indsutry.

“If we are directly employed by the companies, they would double our pay if we work during holidays, but contractors would give you the same amount of pay as work done on normal days,” she said.

Suon Srey Ya, a long time construction worker who has recently been working at the AEON 2 mall construction site, expressed similar concerns as Yeoun regarding pay disparity.

“Men and women both work eight hours a day, but sometimes we only get $5 or $6 dollars per day, while the guys get $7 and upwards,” she said.

Both women told Post Property that workplace discrimination in the construction industry also extended beyond the claimed wage gap.

“During jobs if they know we are pregnant, the manager or the contractor will fire us immediately,” they claimed, adding “ we have requested for the government to create laws protecting construction workers, and laws related to work holidays, maternity leave, and gender discrimination.”

Yann Thy, secretary-general of Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), told Post Property that there are currently 200,000 workers employed in Cambodia’s fast growing construction sector with about 30 percent of that figure comprised of women.

A female construction worker in Phnom Penh dons appropriate attire.
A female construction worker in Phnom Penh dons appropriate attire. Photo supplied

Thy said it was important that females workers received the same benefits and wages as their male counterparts.

“For the greater good, we implore the government to help create policies that can help set a minimum wage for all workers employed in the construction sector and create new laws that can help both male and female construction workers,” he said.

Thy also implored for improved working conditions across the board, noting that workers in the construction industry are exposed to a high level of risk.

“In the past, there have been a lot of construction workers who have suffered serious injuries from a range of accidents such as falling from a great high and being electrocuted which are due to unsafe work practices,” he noted.

“Unfortunately, however, construction workers don’t receive a lot of attention from authorities or associated NGOs,” he added.

Commenting on the wage construction workers receive, Thy said that the minimum wage for workers on building sites was in fact higher than the minimum wage received by those working in the country’s garment sector.

He continued, “That’s why there’s a need for a proper study from the International Labour Organisation and parties concerned on whether the government should use the same minimum wage formula as the garment industry or whether to establish a different minimum wage for the construction industry.”

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said the country may soon set a national minimum wage standard that would be used across all forms of employment.

“In fact we’re currently in talks with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction as well as the Cambodia Society of Architects to push all construction companies to obtain permits from the ministry and the construction company must also have a technical expert to ensure adherence to the country’s safety laws,” he added.

Commenting on the topic of minimum wage across the construction industry, Heng claimed the government should not be solely responsible for determining a benchmark amount.

“There should be a three-way discussion mechanism whereby the employers, associated parties, and the government negotiate hand in hand,” he said.

Earleir this week, Labour Minister Ith Sam said a universal minimum wage law would be passed later this year. The current minimum wage of $153 a month only applies to the garment and footwear sector.

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