With a week to go before Khmer New Year, about 80 drivers from the Phnom Penh Sorya Transportation company Thursday took the keys to their buses and went on strike for higher wages, forcing the firm to scramble to find replacement drivers and vehicles.
At the company’s headquarters in Russei Keo district, intercity buses that otherwise would have been fanning out across the country sat in the garage. At Central Market, which serves as the starting point for many of these journeys, the station was devoid of buses. Would-be passengers grew impatient with waiting and left.
In a letter sent to company bosses, the drivers called for an additional $60 to be added to their $120 monthly wages, as well as higher bonuses, increased holiday pay, and health insurance. They also sought permission to pick up passengers from the side of the road, which enables drivers to ask for on-the-spot cash payments to supplement their income.
“We gave the company one week to resolve these problems, but they never brought the problems to a resolution, so we need to strike and demand that our requests be answered,” said 50-year-old Vorn Vanna, who works the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville route.
After several hours of talks between company bosses and driver representatives, the company agreed to allow drivers to make roadside pick-ups, and the drivers said they would return to work. But they vowed to strike again after Khmer New Year, which runs from April 13 to 16, if their demands for higher pay and health insurance are not met.
“We had three major requests, but only one was fulfilled,” said Sambath Vorn, one of the driver representatives who participated in the talks. “However, we will go on strike once again after the Khmer New Year if the company does not put our other requests into consideration.”
Mr. Vorn said 70 buses did not go into service Thursday, but Va Narin, the drivers’ supervisor, said just 10 vehicles had been affected, and that most of the 100 drivers employed by Sorya were at work Thursday.
Chhim Chamnan, Sorya’s marketing officer, said the striking drivers had not only hurt the company, but also interrupted the travel plans of hundreds of people as the Khmer New Year holiday approaches.
“The company is not the only thing being affected by [the drivers], this will affect society too,” he said, adding that the company simply does not have the means to fulfill all of the drivers’ demands.
“The drivers will not benefit from anything if they keep joining the protests,” he added.
Mr. Chamnan said it was too early to estimate how much the company lost from the half-day strike.
Ean Kimhun, an official with the Cambodian Labor Confederation, which represents the drivers, said they had been right to strike.
“The company should provide higher wages, because it will improve the drivers’ livelihoods,” he said.
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