From Dream to Harsh Reality

Sokhey washing vegetable and ready to cook. Photo: Oxfam

Khmer version

Save enough money to build a small house for herself and her family. That was Sokhey’s dream when she moved to Phnom Penh 10 years ago. She left her hometown, in Pursat province, to find a job in the garment factories.

More than a decade later, Sokhey is still working in one of the many Phnom Penh garment factories. Despite often working overtime, she has not been able to save much. Sokhey currently rents a tiny dark room next to her factory, and lives there with her husband, Soron, a Tuk Tuk driver.

Small benefits thanks to workers unions

In the last few years, workers unions were able to ask for and obtain higher wages, but rents and living expenses also increased nullifying their new margin of savings.

Thanks to the NSSF, Cambodia’s National Social Security fund Sokhey was also able to take advantage of health insurance when she gave birth to her second child. As a regularly employed worker, most of the costs related to her pregnancy and maternity leave were covered by the NSSF.

Unfortunately not everyone can benefit from this scheme. For example, Sokhey’s husband Soron does not qualify for the NSSF. As a self-employed Tuk Tuk driver, he is considered by the Government of Cambodia as an informal worker and hence cannot be a recipient of the NSSF. And like him 70% of the national workforce are not eligible under the scheme; entertainment workers, domestic workers, street vendors, and millions of other Cambodians working in the informal sector are all excluded.

Oxfam is working with its partners to ensure a stronger social security system is put in place to protect all Cambodian marginalised workers.

First, we are involving and coordinating a wide constituency of informal workers groups, and helping to prepare their representatives to engage in dialogues with the Government and factory owners. Secondly, we are supporting and coordinating national coalitions of informal workers to demand social protection for all informal workers. And finally, we are analyzing the political and social context to find opportunities to influence the Government and factory owners through media, public engagement and research.


Sokhey and her husband in front of their rented house. Photo: Oxfam