Belgian Ambassador Visit for Marginalised Workers
Belgian ambassador Mr. Philippe Kridelka visited Oxfam partners working with the Inclusive and Equitable Social Protection for Marginalized Workers in ASEAN, a five-year programme (2017-2021) funded by the Belgian Development Agency in early July 2018.
The partners - including Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Associations (IDEA) and garment factory trade unions - shared information about their programs but also the challenges and difficulties faced by informal workers in Cambodia.
Poor working and living conditions
There are around 6,000 direct sex workers and 26,000 indirect sex workers in Cambodia, 80% of which are in Phnom Penh. As they are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, WNU’s drop-in centres provide them with a safe place to meet and share experiences. “It’s like a refuge if they are at risk,” said Ms. Chan Sophorn, WNU’s advocacy and campaign coordinator. “We also host learning and training sessions on rights, laws, legal consultation, HIV/AIDS and healthcare-related issues."
Street vendors, cart pullers, domestic workers, tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, are informal workers. IDEA supports more than 14,000 members that have been organized, mobilized and empowered to effectively access to better working conditions in order to improve their living conditions.
On the other hand, as the government enforces a higher minimum wage (170$US) for garment factory workers, the owners place workers under short-term contracts in order to avoid paying them full wages and employment benefits as well as making contributions to their health insurance or granting maternity leave, a dilemma that union leaders discussed with Mr Kridelka.
"The centre also provides basic education to children of sex workers as they are not allowed to attend schools or health centres," says Ms. Sophorn. Indeed, sex workers face high levels of discrimination in the community and even in their own families.
Vorn Pao, IDEA president, highlights the challenges they are facing as some of of IDEA are denied access to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). “They feel targeted because they are members of IDEA. We advocate in favour of member access to social protection benefits just like formal workers.’’
NSSF is also an issue for garment factory and footwears workers as factories continue to subcontract parts of the production to smaller home-based factories where workers are informal and thus not part of the NSSF framework.