Life and Work as a Street Cleaner
73 year-old Sok Sam Oeun lives along railway track with many other poor workers in Neakawan, Sangkat Beoung Kork 2, Khan Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Sam Oeun is a single mother of 5 daughters.
- She lives with one of her daughters and has to take care of four grandchildren age from 1 to 12 years olds because their parents left them after they divorced. They have never contacted nor visited the kids since they left them.
She lives in a 20 square meter house with seven people.The area she is living is under development plan. In 2011, her community was informed to be under relocation project. She is now not sure when they will move her and in what form of compensation she will be provided, there are already many communities who have been force to evict with or without proper compensation.
Um Oeun has been working as waste collector and street cleaner for 34 years since 1981. Waste management was changed from state owned to private company owned for the last 20 years. She is now employed by a company called Cintri.
She leaves home at 3.30am every day then ride her bike to work. She starts work at 4.00am. Everyday, she cleans Jawaharlal Nehru Blvd and Kampuchea Krom street. The usual working hour is 8 hour per day starting from 4am to 9am and from 12pm to 3pm.
Like many other workers, Um Oeun works 7 days a week. She doesn’t want to take any day off because she wants to earn more money to support her grandchildren. She is paid 200% if she works on Sunday or on public holiday. Currently, she gets 110$ per month. This amount came after the strike in 2013. Previously, street worker like her get about $85 per month.
During break time, she collects recycle stuffs like can, paper and plastic from the garbage to sell as little extra income of approximately $0.88 per day.
Cintri employs around 1200 workers nationwide, 58% of them is based in Phnom Penh. Most of them are old age like Oeun. Driver and cart puller are mostly young boys.These workers have little knowledge about worker’s rights; they are not free to form union. Majority of them is illiterate and do not meet the criteria to be union candidate or elected to represent their co-workers. To form an independent union is a very big challenge for Cintri workers.
In the past, forming the union working condition was very poor, low wage, no day off, no public holiday and no annual leave, workers were not enjoying their rights stated in the labour law. All workers were provided two uniforms per year but they were deducted $10 from their wage. Asking for permission for day off is not easy for Cintri workers, thus most of them work without annual leave or public holiday. Since they have the union they start to demand for improvement. For union activist, they are better treated now.
Cintri does not provide safety equipment to its workers (glove, protection musk, boot, hat etc…) nor insurance to comply with standard of Occupational Health and Safety. Moreover, they don’t provide drinking water to workers. Sometimes, workers have to drink water from the public tub in the park where hygiene is not guarantee. It is very hot during summer. Therefore, workers need to drink a lot of water as they work under the heat around 37 to 41 degrees. They can’t afford to buy drinking water for the whole day, two-liter water costs them $1. Waste collector workers are facing high risk in both health and life (traffic accident.)
Um Oeun can’t read and write but she can draw to explain her condition. She is a true mobiliser and very encouraging woman. She is active to get workers to join union and learn about workers rights. She takes part of many social events and often join advocacy campaigns.
She can’t remember well but she keeps learning and encouraging other to join union including her daughter and relatives. Her daughter, a single mother of one child, is also working for Cintri and she is now union’s Vice President.
Oeun often get cough and paint on her chest. When she got sick she usually buys medicine from the drug store. Cintri also provide first aid kit but it costs her a lot for transportation.
At this age, she’s worried about the future of her grandchildren. She hopes to earn more money to improve their living condition. They’re still very small and need a care taker while she is at work. her one year old youngest son is now accepted to live at an orphan center in Phnom Penh where he will be provided a better care.