Bus Drivers Protest Against Municipal Gov’t Over Unpaid Wages

About 40 drivers from Phnom Penh’s beleaguered bus service protested outside the Night Market on Saturday because they were not paid their promised wages last month, drivers said Sunday.

The City Bus drivers said the municipal government promised at the end of August to pay them between 1,200,000 and 1,400,000 riel (about $300 to $350) per month depending on seniority—but that they had received only 720,000 riel ($180) at the end of September.

“They asked us to wait, and said that when [the buses] become profitable, they will increase [our wages],” said one driver, Chheang Chantho, 52. “I don’t know when they will become profitable.”

Mr. Chantho added that public transportation systems in many countries are not profitable, but that other governments still manage to pay drivers fairly.

The new bus service was launched earlier this year with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and was initially set to be operated by a Chinese company, Global Trade Development. But Global pulled out of the deal after failing to secure tax breaks for its taxi company, leaving City Hall to run the bus service by itself while it looks for another private firm to take over.

Ean Sokhim, director of the Phnom Penh Autonomous Bus Transportation Authority, which operates the buses, said City Hall was continuing to lose money on the service.

Mr. Sokhim said the drivers had been promised $300 per month by Global Trade Development, and not the municipality, which only took over operating the service on August 30. He said the drivers’ salaries might be raised next year if the municipality can begin to turn a profit on its three bus lines.

“This is a trial phase, and if they can do [their job], they should do it. If they cannot do it, they can go find another place [to work]. We don’t force them,” he said, adding that Deputy Municipal Governor Chhreang Sophann said the drivers should stop protesting or risk losing their jobs.

“Now they are in a probationary period. If they cannot do it, they can leave,” he said. “They should not go on strike at this time because their work performance is being observed.”

Mr. Sophann said the municipality would consider raising the drivers’ salaries once their probation period is over and they are put on contract.

“For contracted staff, in 2015, City Hall will consider providing an appropriate salary based on the situation of the market,” he said.

The drivers are scheduled to meet with City Bus officials today to discuss the issue.

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