Social Protection Need for Informal Economy Workers in Cambodia

Ms. Sim Ath, mobile street vendor. Photo: Oxfam

"When I am sick, I dare not complain because I am poor. If I really needed to go to the hospital and it could cost me more than 100,000 riels, I would have nothing to pay for that"
Ms. Sim Ath, Street Vendor

Ms. Sim Ath has been a street vendor for 4 years, along with her husband, a tuk-tuk driver. They have three children, but only her six-year-old child is in her current care, and other two stay with their grandmother. As a street vender, Sim Ath earns around 15,000 riels to 20,000 riels per day, but it requires her to ride her motorbike from one place to another switching locations from morning till evening, facing various risks while selling steam banana and potato along the road. This income could only cover her utility and housing cost while other necessities such as food and loan payment are still lacking.

Ath said that she is reluctant to visit the hospital, and instead choosing other cheaper options such as over-the-counter medicine or other herbal medicine whenever member of the family is getting sick.

“When I am sick, I dare not complain because I am poor. If I really needed to go to the hospital and it could cost me more than 100,000 riels, I would have nothing to pay for that,” said Ath.

National Social Security Funds or NSSF card is relatively a new information to Sim Ath as an informal economy worker. Similarly, it is still vague for other informal economy workers when it comes to the social security system as well as its benefits because they are not yet legally recognized and included in the registration process to receive such benefits.

In mid-July, Oxfam in collaboration with ILO organized a National Workers Forum on “Social Protection for Informal Economy Workers” to disseminate and to discuss the current situation, need and issues faced by informal economy workers; and barriers to accessing social protection benefits. There was a presentation on the key findings of the research study on “Contributory Capacity of Informal Economy Workers to National Social Security Fund” and the group discussion on how we can work together to promote the inclusion of social protection at policy level.

There were 170 participants from government ministries, development partners, private sectors, civil society organization partners, trade unions network members, local/union leaders, and informal economy workers attended this forum. The platform was a space for the participants to demystify what informality means, share, and discuss on necessary procedures such as registration for social protection which will promote a better coverage of social protection to the informal economy workers, especially women.

Informal Economy workers presented their challenges. Photo: Oxfam

Ms. Sophoan Phean, Oxfam National Director, said “Social Protection is an important tool in supporting vulnerable people, especially informal economy workers who have actively and significantly contributed to the development of their family and country economy. More importantly, it addresses the socio-economic impacts of Cambodia resulting from Covid-19 outbreak and other shocks and takes part in preventing the risks of falling back into poverty.”

Other informal economy workers especially women are the most vulnerable groups, facing various risks including instable income, discrimination, unsafe and unstable working conditions, low income, as well as limited space to participate in the association.

Ms. Francesca Ciccomartino, Representative from the European Union in charge of good governance, human rights and decent work, said in her remarks that “The protection of formal and informal workers is at the heart of a comprehensive approach taken by the EU globally to promote decent work in its four pillars of social protection, productive employment, standards and rights at work and social dialogue.”

This National Worker Forum a part of the project “Improving Synergies between Social Protection and Public Finance Management” implemented by Oxfam, ILO, UNICEF and Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) with the generous financial support from the European Union. This project aims to strengthen national social protection systems through technical support, explorative research, and capacity development, focusing on public financial management system, budgeting, and financing of social protection. The project focuses on supporting the royal government of Cambodia to strengthen and expand the national social protection system through system strengthening activities towards effective, evidence-based, and inclusive financial, and budgeting processes.

Below is highlight of other activities during the event.

Group discussion and presentation on the challenges faced by informal economy workers. Photo: Oxfam


An interview with Tuk-Tuk driver. Photo: Naratevy Kek/Oxfam


Ms. Sophoan Phean, Oxfam National Director, provided an interview to media. Photo: Naratevy Kek/Oxfam
Here is the media coverage after the event: Cambodianess | Phnom Penh Post | PNN TV | VOD