Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Garment workers stuck trying to stitch together a home

Garment workers stuck trying to stitch together a home

A simple pork dinner suffices for garment worker Yem Chhailim’s house near Phnom Penh. She sends most of her wages back to her home province and spends just $30 on rent.
A simple pork dinner suffices for garment worker Yem Chhailim’s house near Phnom Penh. She sends most of her wages back to her home province and spends just $30 on rent. Heng Chivoan

Garment workers stuck trying to stitch together a home

Garment workers in Cambodia face extreme hardship in their private rented accommodation, as they struggle to provide for their families in the provinces.

Where some factories in Cambodia provide accommodation for their workers, others must shift for themselves in the local rental market. With the official minimum wage set at $153 a month, margins for many workers are so tight that they skimp on their housing so they can afford the basics.

Cambodia’s manufacturing sector, mostly located in and around the capital, has created hundreds of thousands of jobs since the mid-1990s. Garment factories receive a steady flow of new workers, many of whom are women from the country’s outlying provinces.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A child negotiates the rickety walkway at Chhailim’s home. Heng Chivoan

Yem Chhailim, aged 35, comes from Prey Veng province near the Vietnamese border. She spends just $30 dollars a month on a tiny shotgun shack surrounded by piles of rotting garbage in Chakangre Leu commune. It’s about a kilometer from the factory where she works, on National Road 1.

Chhailim has worked in garment factories for 20 years. She spoke of her daily life, “I’ve been living and working as a factory worker for nearly 20 years, but my life is not good because I decided to live in cheap room.”

Chhailim earns a basic wage of $153 and sends $100 of this to her family in the province: $70 for her five-year-old daughter and her son aged six, and $30 for her mother, who looks after them. Her decision to spend just $30 on monthly rent was dictated by these hardship numbers. She can earn extra money doing overtime, but rarely takes home more than $200 each month.

Her journey home ends at a rickety boardwalk raised above the rotting garbage and stagnant water. Still, the home she shares with her husband, 36-year-old Vinh Sienghout, is much better than her former residence, a “rented” mosquito net in a room full of other workers, which cost her five USD a month.

Talking to Post Property as she prepared a meal in her zinc-roofed tumbledown room, Chhailim said, “We spend about $30 living in this small room, which is not strong enough under the rain and sun. The garbage thrown at the bottom of the house smells, too.”

She’s relieved to be out of her former dormitory mosquito net accommodation, however. “Back then I was worried that when it rained, it might have flooded. Some workers were in even worse accommodation than me.

“I always wanted a big wooden house to live with my family in my hometown, but I have not been able to do so yet,” she added. “The life here is hard, but the people are friendly, so it seems a bit like my home town.”

“I always dream that each factory could provide comfortable living space for workers, but since I’ve been working, almost 20 years in this factory, I haven’t ever had a good place to stay.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Yem Chhailim outside the compound where she lives with the constant smell of garbage in a six-meter-square shack. Heng Chivoan

Few garment workers have the funds to rent a room that is properly constructed and clean. Some get accommodation at the factory itself, but many have to find their own room and spend their own money doing so. They often rent the cheapest available so they can maximize their remittances home.

CheaSokLeang, aged 42, a garment worker at a different factory in Chakangre Leu commune and also comes from Prey Veng province. He told Post Property: “I would love to live comfortably in a decent rented house with a bathroom and plenty of space, but it’s hard for low income people like us.”

Sieng Ny, a landlord in Kien Svay district said she rents 20 rooms at $40 a month each for garment workers nearby. She added, “I try to build large, en-suite bedrooms with separate bathrooms, because sanitation and security are important for these workers.”

She said that although her rooms did not meet normal construction standards, her rooms were better than other places.”I know the standard of construction and I want to help the workers have a standard living space, but they don’t have the capacity to rent a high-end room at all,” she adds.

Yang Sophorn, President of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), said that garment workers were still struggling to find good housing, hygienic food, and decent conditions for their families. “Some factories provide accommodation for garment workers, but some large factories don’t have these facilities yet, which makes it difficult for workers who work overtime and who have little security on their way home. Most of them share bathrooms, which can cause a lack of hygiene.”

Sophorn said that in order to provide workers with decent accommodation, the government or the landlords should think of constructing large-scale housing with clean bathrooms. She said that sometimes even factory-provided housing can be out of reach for workers who are charged rent:“We still have problems with the living conditions of workers because when the owners build on-site accommodation, workers are not able to afford to rent as well as their living expenses.

Workers’ salaries have increased, but their purchasing power has declined due to higher prices. Generally, the unions have helped them to a better working and living standard.Sophorn added, however, that government housing law needs to be implemented more firmly. “We have a rental contract law on housing standards, but I don’t think it is implemented in practice, and they don’t seem to understand the wording of the law announced by the Ministry of Labour” she said.


  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Pursat Ford assembly plant opens

    The Kingdom’s first Ford assembly plant was inaugurated on June 16 in Pursat province amid rising demand for brand-new vehicles among Cambodians. The facility is seen as a game changer for the domestic automobile industry, which could bring a wave of investors seeking to cash

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Angkor photo rules clarified

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) denied that it had banned the use of camera tripods in the Angkor Archaeological Park, explaining that the confusion stemmed from a long-standing rule which required commercial photographers and videographers to apply for permission to film. The explanation followed a

  • $50B infrastructure plan en route

    The government’s upcoming $50 billion,10-year infrastructure master plan will provide tremendous investment opportunities for domestic and foreign entities, transport experts and economists say. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol revealed the plan to Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami on June 15. At