Standing Firm to Support Female Tuk-Tuk Drivers

Tuk Tuk drivers are classed as informal workers. This is because we are both the owner and worker of our business," she said, "Unlike a formal worker, we don't have a salary. So, if we don't work hard, we would not get enough income.
Sreymao, Tuk-Tuk driver

Ms Sem Sreymao, 30, is a female tourist tuk-tuk driver. She starts her day by cleaning her house, cooking and preparing breakfast for her two children before sending them to school. Then, Sreymao gets herself ready, opens her driving application, waits for orders from her clients. Working until late, she usually returns home at around 10 pm.

"Tuk Tuk drivers are classed as informal workers. This is because we are both the owner and worker of our business," she said, "Unlike a formal worker, we don't have a salary. So, if we don't work hard, we would not get enough income."

Sreymao's life as a tuk-tuk driver has never been easy, and the outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic is making her life even harder. The lockdown and fear of the virus have interrupted her only source of income. Now, she earns less than before but has to spend more. Sreymao used to make 60,000 riels (about $15) per day, but since the pandemic, the money she earns each day has dropped to as low as 10,000 riels (about $2.5). Someday, she is lucky enough to make 20,000 riels (about $5).

"It's been very hard, especially over the last two years with Covid19. We don't get enough clients. Clients are afraid of the virus," she added, "on top of that, the fee of both gasoline and driving app has increased."

Sreymao is among millions of Cambodians who have a loan to pay each month. She borrowed $3000 to buy tuk-tuk when she decided to start this job in 2020, only three months before the pandemic hit the country.

For informal workers like Sreymao, medical expense is the biggest burden, especially when it requires surgery. She tries to avoid the hospital as much as she can. "When I am sick, I dare not visit the hospital for a check-up. I could only afford to buy medicines from the pharmacy," Sreymao said, "After taking a few pills, I feel better, so I get back to my work."

Sreymao has been actively involved with the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)'s activities for the past two years. She is now an IDEA local leader, the Secretary of the Council of Representatives, and the Women's Tuk Tuk leader in Phnom Penh with other 79 female members. She attended training and other related activities on social protection.

Sreymao is well-aware that the National Social Protection Fund (NSSF) card is the support she needs from the government. Sreymao said she would feel safer if informal workers were protected under the social protection scheme, especially when her job exposes her to high risks on the road every day. Also, her job is one of the most impacted by the Covid19 pandemic.

"I wish the NSSF would cover informal and marginalized workers too. At least, it would allow me to go to the hospital when needed. Like me, the drivers on the road are at risk of traffic accidents. We never know how much we have to spend for treatment each time," she said.

In providing support to citizens experiencing difficult times in life, she is committed to gathering more women tuk-tuk drivers, training them about their rights, protecting women drivers from all kinds of abuses and discriminations, and gaining state support in the future. "We are a taxpayer too. We deserve to be protected by the social protection system," Sreymao said.