Young people working in Cambodia’s sprawling informal sector face tougher working conditions and a lack of control over their jobs, according to a draft study released on Monday by the Youth Resource Development Program, a youth organisation based in the capital.
Based on a survey of 408 youths in the Phnom Penh area who work in 10 ill-regulated sectors ranging from construction to restaurants, the study showed that only 27 per cent of respondents had contracts with their employers, while slightly less than half even knew of the Labour Law, which governs employment in the Kingdom.
“Based on the results of the study, they faced [difficulties] especially with having no contract, and when they have a conflict with their employer they have no mechanism to deal with [it],” said Cheang Sokha, executive director of the YRDP.
The study mainly interviewed high school dropouts and university students working part-time, defining informal workers as those working without fixed hours or wages, said Sokha.
The report concluded that one of the main reasons for the lack of workers’ protections was low penetration by unions, with only 3.7 per cent of workers involved with one.
Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, concurred with that finding, saying that only a small number of restaurant workers – mainly youth from the provinces – are unionised.
“[Employers] don’t really care about the Labour Law, that’s why there are many problems in the sector,” ranging from a lack of overtime pay to low wages, he said.
Low unionisation rates in sectors like the restaurant industry are largely due to fears over losing their jobs and a lack of personal investment in jobs seen as temporary, Mora said.
Despite the issues in the sector, the study found that on average, respondents had a total income of $172 per month, only slightly lower than the estimated $188 total take-home income for workers in the more unionised garment sector.
Chan Savy, a 21-year-old gas station attendant in Takeo, said he didn’t know much about the Labour Law, although his job was “acceptable”.
“I am also thinking of joining a union to get better conditions, but I am afraid that if I join the union I will be fired,” he said.