A strike by hundreds of workers at Phnom Penh’s waste collection firm ended Wednesday after their employer, Cintri, agreed to the strikers’ demands to raise wages and improve working conditions.
Shortly after the agreement was reached, Cintri’s green-colored garbage trucks and green-uniformed workers were busy clearing the city’s street of heaps of smelly trash that had built up since industrial action began on Sunday.
“We agreed on all points today and the workers go back to work,” said Ngoun Sipheng, Cintri operations manager.
The new pay and conditions deal was reached at 2 p.m. when, after hours of negotiations, the workers agreed to accept a wage hike of between $20 and $25 per month depending on their job description.
With the $20 to $25 pay raise, trash collectors, who earn the lowest salaries at Cintri, will now receive $90 by the end of this month instead of $65. Garbage truck drivers working night shifts will see their salaries rise from $120 to $140. Other demands agreed to include overtime for working Sundays and free work uniforms.
Earlier this week, Cintri, which has held the monopoly to collect and dispose of the city’s waste since 2002, said that paying more than $80 per month for trash collectors would ruin the company. It is ten years since the company’s workers have had a pay rise.
“It is a good agreement because we get more money and we can go back to work, so it is good for the company as well,” said Mey Phan, a representative of the Trade Union Federation for Increasing Khmer Employees Lifestyles at Cintri.
“Although some workers don’t agree, but for now, we need a solution, this is all the company can provide at the moment and we can discuss more in a few months,” he said.
Pot Chhorn, 36, was among the Cintri workers not happy with the deal: “I agree with my [union] representative that we had to agree for now although I am still not happy with it.”
While the strike ended successfully and peacefully, the day started off tense Wednesday when, at around 9 a.m., dozens of military police, riot police and civilian security guards deployed at the two entrances of Cintri’s Vehicle Repair and Maintenance site in Dangkao district, where about 200 striking workers were holding their protest.
At Sophal, a 28-year-old trash collector who has been with Cintri for five years, like many, questioned the heavy police presence at the peaceful strike, which had, since Sunday, developed an almost festive air with the protesters bringing in a sound system to dance and drink beer.
“They create fear among us workers. Our strike is peaceful, so why do they send armed forces?” Mr. Sophal asked.
Asked about the police deployment, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said that they were merely there to protect property.
“The military police was only there to protect people and property,” he said.
Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Khuon Sreng likewise defended the use of the military police, saying that the garbage trucks had to return to Phnom Penh’s streets to pick up the piles of trash that were affecting people’s lives.
“If workers won’t allow the trucks to leave…we will use force,” he said earlier in the day Wednesday.
And if Cintri workers had not returned to work Wednesday, Mr. Sreng claimed he would have done the job himself.
“Police, military police and security guards and myself will go out if the workers don’t work,” Mr. Sreng said.
Prak Sokha, a representative of the strikers, said last night that about 80 percent of strikers had returned to work, with the rest expected to return Thursday.
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