Waste Collectors Take a Break as Pchum Ben Festivities Begin

From Thursday through Sunday, the city’s only waste-collection company, Cintri, will be operating with a skeleton service that will not be able to clear the city’s garbage as 70 percent of the firm’s employees will take three days of holiday, City Hall said in statement.

Phnom Penh’s residents have also been warned to allow two further days for the city’s trash collection service to return to normal as waste disposal workers make their way back to Phnom Penh from visiting their families in the provinces.

“In this regard, we would like to inform all citizens to pack and keep their waste within their houses and don’t dispose of it in any public places which negatively affects public order, beauty, sanitation and the environment,” the notice reads.

Calling on the public to do their bit may be a reasonable request under the circumstances, but by Wednesday afternoon—the day before Cintri’s official holiday began—garbage was already piling up on city streets and, once again, creating an eyesore for locals and visitors alike.

At the corner of streets 13 and 114, a vendor selling Khmer sweets and cakes looked on as a mountain of rubbish in the middle of the crossroads encroached upon his customer seating area.

“It will be a very bad smell during these three days and all of this garbage is bad for my food and my customers,” said the vendor, 24-year-old Khean Sapoun.

“But it is a difficult situation because the waste-collection workers should be able to go home for Pchum Ben, too.”

The air of resigned understanding was shared by other businesspeople in Phnom Penh Wednesday.

Soum Lang, 42, was setting up her roadside seafood eatery on Street 51 alongside broken black bags stinking of the previous night’s uncollected garbage.

“We sell seafood so the smell gets very bad, but there are so little [waste-collection] workers this weekend,” she said.

“I cannot wait to see if [trash collectors] will come, so I will bring this trash to the dump myself, otherwise there won’t be any customers,” she said, adding that it was better that the workers be allowed to go home to celebrate Pchum Ben with their families.

“They are Cambodians, too,” she said.

Seng Chamroeun, deputy director of Cintri, said that with as few as 400 workers out of 1,050 staying to work over the weekend, nighttime collection services would cease and the remaining staff would be deployed during the day to try their best to clear the roadsides of trash.

“We are paying the staff who stay to work 15,000 to 20,000 riel more per day [about $3.75 to $5], which is double their daily salary,” he said.

Yet the extra incentive is not enough to sway most workers from going home.

“I will go home [today] to meet my family during Pchum Ben, even though the company offers me double pay, I still need to go,” said 31-year-old waste truck driver Eum Orn, who is from Kompong Cham province.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that residents and businesses had been notified of the situation and should try their best to keep the city clean.

“The workers of Cintri are also Khmer people, so they have the right to go back home to join the Pchum Ben ceremonies in their homelands,” he said.

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