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City Hall, Trash Collectors Reach Agreement Over Labor Benefits

Trash piles up on Mehru Square's street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on October 06, 2020. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Trash collection workers are expected to return to work after reaching an agreement with City Hall, which guaranteed that workers would get mandatory labor benefits if their contracts were terminated by waste management firm Cintri Cambodia.

Trash has piled up on Phnom Penh’s streets after workers at waste management firm Cintri Cambodia and City Hall were unable to reach an agreement over labor benefits, as the capital looks to restructure its garbage collection system.

Some 2,150 workers of Cintri Cambodia, a monopolistic waste collection service, went on strike late Friday evening, demanding that the company, which is facing overhauls due to poor service, pay them benefit packages before making any transition.

A statement released by City Hall and signed by Governor Khuong Sreng states that the municipal administration, worker representatives, and union members had reached an agreement that would see trash collection workers receive all benefits guaranteed to them under the Labor Law if they were terminated from service.

“The Phnom Penh city administration ensures that workers will not lose their jobs in the future even if Cintri will win the bid or not,” reads the note.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has complained of Cintri’s services in 2019, after which the waste collection firm’s license was revoked and it was put under state control. The city will have three or four trash collection service providers, according to comments made by the prime minister last year.

With Cintri’s monopoly heading to an end, workers are unsure if their benefits, like seniority payments, will be honored if they are laid off or have to move to another service provider.

Cintri Cambodia trash collection workers went on strike last week demanding benefit packages, in Phnom Penh, on October 6, 2020. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)
Cintri Cambodia trash collection workers went on strike last week demanding benefit packages, in Phnom Penh, on October 6, 2020. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Chhun Navann, a 62-year-old waste worker, said she had been informed of the agreement, but wasn’t sure if she would return to work in time for her Thursday 4 a.m. shift.

“I am now waiting for the information from [my seniors],” said Chhun Navann, who has worked for Cintri since 2016, earning from $150 to $165 per month.

“Workers want the company to provide us the work benefits now. Why do they need to keep this money without giving it to [us]?” she said.

After threatening workers on Saturday, Khuong Sreng attempted to alleviate workers’ concerns on Tuesday, though without any concrete promises.

“For example, if Cintri wins the right to collect waste from certain parts of the city and has a surplus of workers, the excess workers will be supported by the municipal administration and the seniority payments and other benefits shall not be lost.”

“I plead them to return to work,” Khuong Sreng said.

The governor’s pleas revealed the extent of the trash problem facing the city. City officials said that around 3,000 tons of garbage were produced daily in Phnom Penh, most of which had not been collected for four days.

District administration deployed officials, security personnel, and trucks to collect garbage within their constituencies, but mounds of trash were still visible across the city, especially near busy markets.

Kao Sokvath, a unionist assisting the striking workers, said the workers had been kept in the dark about the bidding process, which is supposed to start in October, and that the strike was justified.

“I find nothing illegal here with the strike,” Kao Sokvath said. “The procurement is set to take place and they have kept the information about the bidding for months.”

Ou Sreypov, a 52-year-old waste worker, said she had worked for Cintri for six years, earning 600,000 riels a month, around $150. She said the conditions were taxing and that their leadership had failed to address their demands.

“We face difficultly under the heat and rains, work with sewage and waste when there are floods, I suggest the people in the leadership pay attention to us,” said Ou Sreypov.