Dozens of gardeners employed by Phnom Penh City Hall went on strike on Wednesday, briefly abandoning their pruning and mowing duties to protest a plan that would transfer their management to a private company.
While municipal authorities have assured the 200 city gardeners that their salaries would remain unchanged, the 50-odd protesters fear they would be subjected to rigid working hours under private management.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the municipal government was still fielding offers from local companies that hope to assume oversight of the gardeners, declining to name them or say when a decision would be made.
“We are still discussing, but we want and need this plan in order to strengthen the efficiency of managing the gardens in the capital,” he said on Wednesday, adding that the city would retain final decision-making power over plans to upgrade or add gardens to the capital.
Municipal groundskeepers receive a monthly salary of $125 from City Hall, plus a $25 bonus from the Transport Ministry, according to Mr. Chanyada.
Under the management of a private company, he said, “their salaries will still be $150…. They can continue working as normal.”
But the gardeners who gathered in the park next to Independence Monument at 7 a.m. on Wednesday—resuming work two hours later—are not so sure.
Bou Sinoun, 41, said she was not worried about her salary, but about the potential for stricter working hours. “We are striking because we don’t want to be contract staff for a private company,” she said. “With the state, we can ask to leave early.”
Ms. Sinoun added that while she relied solely on her gardening salary, many of her colleagues had second jobs that would be affected by longer hours.
Hun Vouch Im, 40, said she was more concerned about the possibility of being required to show up on time.
“I don’t like private company rules; they require you to be on time,” she said. “You should understand, working for the state—coming or going—it’s easier than with a private company.”