If we could have a decent living

It was November last year, when Cambodia held its first ever Fashion-Week in Phnom Penh. Cambodia was targeted by world famous fashion designer to bring fashion week, latest collection, runways-show to the elites—the wealthiest of the wealthy. It has been claimed nonsense toward the purpose of bringing that so-called ‘A-waste-of-money project’ to the kingdom because though Cambodia covers billions of dollars worth for the world export market each year, it is still known as the country where so much of cheap clothes are made. Those elites really have no idea that behind those hierarchy materials lays the hardship of hundreds of thousand of over-worked and under-paid garment workers.

Thousands of rental rooms lining up in rows. / Photo by Lim MengY 400,000 Cambodians, mostly women from rural areas, have been employing as garment workers at foreign-invested factories. They could earn only $2 a day and are not able to meet basic needs of their living. Not so happy with the information, I decided to go to Chom Chao district, where so many factories are located, to see the real situation of those garment workers.

After recommended from a person at Workers Information Center (WIC), I finally met a garment worker Chhum Chanthy. She has been working in this field for 5 years. I was able to visit her rental room, but she refused to call it as a room because she said, “It is just a chaos place where I can only lay my back down.”

This unfortunate-fact of life started when Chanty left her hometown, Svay Reang, in 2007 for Phnom Penh city to earn a living as garment worker, the position which she never expects for this insufficient income that she have to share her rental room with other 5 workers. Down to a path next to Independent Market I from Veng Sreng road there are several small walkways which head to thousands of rental rooms lining up in rows. That’s an eye-wide-opening if any stranger goes there and sees how miserable the livelihood is, and will be definitely shocked that this kind of place does exist in the town.

Chhum Chanthy in her room giving an interview with the CambodiaCircles writer. / Photo by Lim MengY Chanthy’s about-2.5-square-meter room is jammed with two up-rised beds with a small kitchen and stuff. “I have to share with other 3 people and a couple to reduce the rental fee, so totally there are 6 people in the room,” said Chanthy. She continued that there is no privacy in this kind of shared room, and you will never get rest from disease if one of your roommates get sick. When asked how she thrives with it, she said she had no choice besides swallowing the difficulties.

The wall that made of thinny-wooden, and the roofs covered by zinc without ceiling at all, the room could turn up to more than 40Co at day-time. “The reason why I work six days a week and add up my working hours on Sunday is not only because I want to earn more money but also I can’t stay at the room at day-time; never could I have a nap at room because it could burn me out at anytime,” she complained.  

Chhum Chanthy would be happier if the smelly stuck sewage tube in front of the room could be drained. / Photo by Lim MengY However, both sunny and rainy reasons never bring good time to Chanty. She would be happier if the smelly stuck sewage tube in front of the room could be drained. “There is always flood whenever it rains because the tube is stuck, and no one here cares about it even the landlord. We worked so hard during the day, but we can’t have a good sleep at night because of floods.”

Another most difficult thing to deal with is that people living in those few hundredrental rooms in that neighborhood can only use 10 shared toilets, which never have water. She can only go to the toilet at market, which she has to pay money for it, if she wants to use toilet with proper water. “There is no water and electricity at night time. It is hard to go to toilet at night time unless I have a few friends accompanying each other.” Chanthy told. The neighborhood is described as insecurity as many of rape and stealing cases happen so often.

Another most difficult thing to deal with is that people living in those few hundred rental rooms in that neighborhood can only use 10 shared toilets, which never have water. / Photo by Lim MengY Chanthy and other workers have complained many times to the landlord about sewage, electricity and water, but what they got from the landlord is, “Everything is fit with money you rent me; if you ask for more, pay me more.”

Not so different from Chanthy, almost every garment workers are tortured by those hardships, according to Preab Marat, facilitator of WIC ‘DangKao District’. Insufficient income confines workers from meeting a basic need of living, living with hygiene and enough food and sleep. “We don’t expect to save money, but we just want to have a decent living,” said Chanthy and her roommates.

Marat added that besides trying to add up their working hours, it is hard to have their wage raised though most workers has tried to organize strikes or movements for it because they are always rejected by showing the new agreement of government and factories owners.

According to the new agreement of the government and factories owners, the minimum wage of a worker is $61—not included extra hours—this agreement will last until 2014, when the new agreement of minimum wage can be revised. So those workers have to wait until 2014 to have a decent living?

Article by: Lim MengY
E-mail: lim_meng_y@yahoo.com
Photo by Lim MengY
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About Writer:

MengY profileLim MengY is a sophomore of Media Management at the Department of Media and Communication (DMC). She likes writing in the hope that her articles can contribute to the society in term of improving reading habit among Cambodians. She has worked as a freelance reporter for a local media since she was in year 1 and started working for the CambodiaCircles as a news reporter since the existent of the website. “I want to be a professional reporter in the future,” said the 19-year-old reporter.