Long hours and questionable safety standards on Cambodia’s construction sites continue to pose challenges to one of the fastest growing sources of employment that hires hundreds of thousands of workers a day.
According to a report released by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction earlier this week, the Kingdom’s construction industry employs up to 250,000 workers every day across the country, with over 100,000 in Phnom Penh alone.
While it was reported that unskilled construction workers are paid $6 a day in Phnom Penh, architects, engineers and other skilled labourers can earn anywhere between $350 to $2,000 per month.
Yann Thy, secretary-general of Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), although optimistic over the fact that so many people are finding sustainable incomes, also expressed concerns over the workers’ welfare and safety.
“Based on a report we conducted in 2015, we discovered that more than 2,000 construction workers have been injured on construction sites. Out of this figure, 36 died,” Thy said.
While the fatality and injury rate is considerably low, he believes that the numbers don’t paint the full picture as many contruction companies fail to report injuries or deaths.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said that since construction workers are not recognised as ‘formal workers,’ benefits such as personal safety equipment or union membership does not apply.
“In the construction sector, welfare and safety for workers lacks oversight, while the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) does not give priority to construction workers, covering mostly garment and textile industry workers and non-govermental organisations,” he said, adding that most construction companies are not registered with the NSSF. According to him, contracts made between construction companies and sub-contractors can be disadvantageous to construction workers as they do not receive the benefits stipulated in the workers’ protection law, thus falling through whatever little safety net there is.
An unskilled worker from a construction site in Koh Pich, Srey Leap, said that she is paid $5 a day for eight hours, with the potential to earn an additional $5 in overtime for five hours of work if she decides to pull the night shift – a request that is often asked of workers.
“At the construction site, it is required to wear helmet, gloves, and boots. Besides that, we receive little support and are often asked to work overtime,” she said. Similarly, In, a 37 year-old bricklayer at another construction site in Koh Pich, said he has been working there for the past two months and earns $10 a day for more than eight hours of work, with an additional $1 per hour when pulling the night shift.
While earning a sizeable income compared to Cambodian standards, he said the paycheck is often inconsistent and he sometimes goes weeks without being paid.
While these workers have been sub-contracted out through individual employers, larger construction companies often are unaware of workers’ grievances as they focus more on the logistics of seeing a project through to its completion regardless of how many hours a worker has to pull.
“To complete a project on a planned schedule, construction workers are often asked to work during the night with overtime pay, but we do not recruit them as they are the responsibility of our sub-contractors,” said Huang, general director of Cana Sino Construction Corporation, which is currently involved in two projects on Koh Pich and a few additonal buildings in central Phnom Penh.
While working the nightshift allows workers to earn extra income while pushing longer hours, Thierry Loustau, managing director of LBL International, explained that this is often because of the tight restrictions forced on material suppliers that can only enter the city at night.
“Workers normally work eight hours a day, and we agree on a maximum of three hours for overtime work, but never more than that,” he said, adding that workers are needed to offload materials at night due to the restriction of daytime deliveries.
Nevertheless, while it is a combination of necessity coupled with the allure of earning a few extra dollars, , CENTRAL’s Tola urged the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MLVT) to enforce laws on construction companies and sub-contractors alike, in order to maintain adequate pay and safe working conditions.
Officials from the MLVT declined to comment at the time of press, while the NSSF said that an official letter needs to be submitted before comment.