Though garment workers are often at the front and centre of Cambodia’s labour movement, a new survey has found that their counterparts in the construction sector on average earned less and were not receiving Labour Law-prescribed benefits, with female builders bearing the brunt of this pay disparity.
The Building and Wood Workers’ Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) released early findings yesterday from a 1,010-worker survey conducted across Phnom Penh worksites, producing data on worker economic profiles, workplace conditions and social security fallbacks.
While the more heavily unionised garment sector has reaped some economic benefits as the only sector to have a minimum wage, the survey shows that on average, construction workers were getting around $190 a month, whereas garment factory employees were closer to $230 – largely on account of extra allowances and more overtime pay.
Construction workers, estimated at around 200,000 in the Kingdom, were spending on par with those working in garment factories, but able to save far less. Unlike the garment sector, construction work is largely viewed as an informal sector, and does not have a minimum wage.
However, a closer look at construction workers shows that female builders were paid even less – men were paid an average of $8.43 per day, compared to the $5.54 women were paid, with the disparity existing irrespective of the type of work they performed.
Women were more likely to get relatively menial jobs, like cleaning the worksite and carrying construction materials, whereas men tended to skew more towards skilled labour, such as welding, machine operation, bricklaying and electrical work.
“That is the Cambodian mindset and the women have to suffer for that. Even with job opportunities women have fewer chances,” said BWTUC’s Acting President Sok Kin.
He hoped the findings would shine more light on the sector, which despite being entitled to Labour Law protections, was treated by firms as an informal sector.
“In the garment sector they pay more attention to everything. I don’t know why?” he queried.
Other findings from the survey showed that 89 percent of workers did not have official contracts, most never received bonuses or severance pay and only 9 percent were enrolled with the National Social Security Fund – cementing the sector’s informal nature. What’s more, 91 percent of respondents did not belong to unions, far less than in the garment sector.
Three-fourths of the workers lived on-site and were given little more than an electrical connection, water hook-up and a toilet. Close to 20 percent had experienced worksite injuries, with only a third being compensated for the medical costs.
The Solidarity Center’s William Conklin said the survey, one of few to delve into the sector, would help workers and unions better advocate for their rights.
He added that setting a national universal minimum wage would create a base that would ensure some amount of pay equality.
The draft minimum wage law will look to set a base salary for sectors beyond just the garment sector, which is currently in the process of deliberating an increase to its existing $153 monthly baseline wage.
The law, while welcomed by stakeholders, was panned for being restrictive of workers’ rights to assembly and association, as well as other punitive measures.
“And gender wage disparity has to be addressed because that is against international law and labour standards, and it is very important that equal pay for equal work is there throughout the economy,” he said.
Soun Sreiya, a 39-year-old construction worker in Phnom Penh, said it was very common that female workers were short-changed on the worksite, even in cases where they had worked longer than their male counterparts.
“Because the bosses believe that we cannot do the job as much and as well as the men,” she said.