About 1,000 employees of trash collection company Cintri have been on strike for four days to demand benefits as City Hall reviews the company’s exclusive garbage collection contract for the capital, with the protest causing waste to pile up in the streets.
The strike comes after Cintri workers saw a notice from City Hall circulating online saying a new firm would be awarded the contract to clear garbage in the capital, leaving workers concerned that Cintri would shut down without paying their benefits and final salary.
In response, Phnom Penh City Hall announced October 5 that it would recruit new workers to collect the trash while the negotiations are underway between Cintri management and employees, a move some workers said was unreasonable.
Rong Saray, 37, a representative for the striking Cintri workers, said October 5 that about 1,000 employees had been on strike for four days to demand that they receive seniority indemnity pay, compensation pay, final salary, remaining annual leave payment, and notice payment.
“We were concerned about this problem, so we requested that the company meet our five demands,” Saray said, noting that workers want the company to resolve the issues before the city’s trash collection contract is awarded to a new firm.
“If there is no resolution, we will continue to strike until we receive one,” he said. “Our workers have already stopped collecting waste for four days.”
Saray added that he had worked for Cintri for nearly six years, rising from the position of waste collector to garbage truck repairman.
Um Vanny, 32, a Cintri employee of 10 years, said he and the other workers would not collect waste on a short-term basis as requested by City Hall as they were determined to secure a resolution to their demands.
“We are scared that they will close the waste collection company and that the old company [Cintri] will not pay benefits for us,” Vanny said. “Please, City Hall, help us to find the resolution and please do not put pressure on us by saying that if we do not go to work, they will recruit new workers instead us. It is not reasonable.”
Despite City Hall’s appeal, he said he thought it was unlikely that they would be able to find other workers who are up to the task.
“I think that there are not more people who can do this work,” Vanny said, adding that the work was extremely physically demanding, and that workers often sustained lacerations while accidentally touching broken pieces of glass hidden in the piles of refuse.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the municipality had issued a statement on October 3 explaining that some of the conditions demanded by the Cintri workers could not be met because they had not yet been terminated from their jobs.
“The company is still functioning, so their demands are invalid,” Measpheakdey said.
He said that the Phnom Penh Municipality had previously decided not to continue Cintri’s contract because it was dissatisfied with the company’s performance. Instead, the municipal government would select three other companies that will share collection services in Phnom Penh, he said.
“During the transition, we are looking for other companies, so we will use the old mechanism of temporarily hiring Cintri workers,” Measpheakdey said. “We will choose three companies [to collect the waste in Phnom Penh].”
He added that City Hall had ordered district authorities to collect garbage while the Cintri workers are on strike, but that Phnom Penh residents should also do their part by keeping rubbish at their house.
“Please everyone, forgive us for this problem,” he said. “We should be keeping the waste in the house for now, and please do not put garbage along the street because if we put it on the street, it will smell bad.”
A second statement issued by the municipal authority on October 5 announced the city’s intention to recruit temporary workers to collect and transport waste.
Srey Touch, 55, a resident of Boeng Keng Kang district, said she noticed that the garbage had not been cleared from the street near her home, but she had not heard any explanation as to why.
“If Cintri workers do not collect the waste, it will pile up more and more along the street and it will become rotten and smelly,” Touch said.
Another citizen, Nhim Sreymom, 35, a food vendor in Boeng Keng Kang district, said she had heard from commune officials that Cintri workers would not be collecting rubbish because they were protesting.
“The commune authority told me that in about a week, they will come to collect the waste, but if they wait a week more, the garbage will be rotten and foul-smelling and when it rains, it will clog the sewer,” she said, adding that she hoped the workers would be able to resolve their problem soon.
Reached October 5, Cintri Chairman Seng Savy said he was currently in a meeting discussing a solution to end the strike.
“I need more time to discuss this problem,” Savy said.
Touch Kosal, president of Cambodian Tourism Workers’ Union Federation said that after attending a meeting between Cintri owner and employees, City Hall and the Phnom Penh Labor Department, workers and the company still could not come to any agreement.
“In the meeting, the Oknha who represents Cintri company said that City Hall will auction the waste collection contract on October 16,” Kosal said, adding that employee representatives who were present had again refused to restart garbage collection until their demands had been fulfilled.