Trade unions are working to educate construction workers and their employers on the benefits of the Kingdom’s social protection systems.

Various stakeholders met on March 3 for the final review of the 2023-2027 occupational safety and health master plan, while one union revealed that less than 10 per cent of the construction workers it spoke to have been registered for the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

Sok Kin, president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), said most construction workers still face many challenges, as the majority of contractors and employers do not appreciate the benefits of registering their workers with the NSSF.

“Most employers and contractors treat construction work as temporary or seasonal work, regardless of how long their employers have been with them,” he said.

“Construction workers are under a lot of pressure. Many of them are facing restricted wages and inconsistent work. In addition, many employers fail to provide the protective equipment they need to keep themselves safe, and this results in many serious accidents,” he added.

According to a BWTUC report, a study of 1,010 construction workers found that only nine per cent of informal workers received social protection from their employers and were registered with the NSSF.

“The percentage of construction workers receiving social protection is very small, even as the construction sector is growing. There has been a large increase in the number of companies that have been issued business certificates by the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction compared to recent years,” said Kin.

He added that despite his team’s repeated requests, there appears to be no clear mechanism in place to ensure protection is extended to informal construction workers.

Chap Rithy, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said occupational safety and health is an important issue, and one which the government pays close attention to.

Speaking at the review of the latest safety and health master plan, he added that government policy incorporates the core labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

He said there is an increasing need to mainstream knowledge about occupational safety and health measures into general education, so people are aware of them before they enter the workforce.

“Incorporating it into general education and vocational training programmes will help build a safer and healthier future for the next generation of workers. Promoting lifelong learning about occupational safety and health will aid both workers and employers in adapting to emerging risks, as well as persistent work-related dangers,” he said.

NSSF deputy director-general Heng Sophannarith said the NSSF encouraged all parties to meet the conditions for registration, so they could enjoy their right to social security, as enshrined in the law. However, he did identify some issues that made it difficult for construction workers to do so.

“They often change locations, and many of them do not have Cambodian national identification cards. In an effort to address this problem, the NSSF has been cooperating with the General Department of Identification to educate workers about the benefits of obtaining a card, and using it to register,” he added.

“Under the law, it does not matter if a construction worker works directly for a company or through a contractor, they are entitled to the NSSF’s protection. This is especially important in the construction industry, where workers are at a higher risk of suffering an accident than most other industries,” he continued.

He requested that the owners of construction firms and private contractors be willing to register all of their workers and pay the necessary contribution to the fund.

“This should be looked at as an important contribution to the future of not just their employees, but the industry as a whole. It is a virtuous thing to do,” he said.

According to the BWTUC, there are around a quarter of a million construction workers in the Kingdom, the vast majority of them informal.

The NSSF said there are currently a total of 332 enterprises registered with the fund. They employ 15,613 workers, 2,788 of them women.