Previously a rice transplanting coolie in L’vea Em – her hometown – Tuy Oeurn, 38, has worked on construction sites in Phnom Penh for about six to seven years.
Oeurn said, “I work one day to eat for one day. My daily wage is 20,000 Khmer riels, and my expense is the same.” She is an apprentice, and her duty is to carry and mix limestone. Some days, she said, it’s so tiring because she needs to assist more than one skilled construction worker at a time. Since working as a construction worker for almost 10 years, she has never had any savings, for she spends on food daily, sometimes on her children’s and her own medicine and even worse she still has to pay off her debts. No matter how difficult the nature of the job is and how exhausted she is, she keeps working as hard as she can for the future of her two daughters who are living on site with her and studying at a school nearby.
Oeurn is a person who loves long hair; she had kept her hair waist length. However, one day she had to make a hard decision; she had to cut her hair and sell it to pay a debt.
“The foreman ran away without paying us any money, so I had to sell my hair to pay a food debt that I owed. I got only 60,000 Khmer riel for the cost of my hair.”
She added, “This job is risky. We never know a person’s mind and what they’re thinking. Luckily, I was cheated only once.”
When asked if she was happy with her job, Oeurn said she’s happy to do it because she’s poor. She’s worried about her health and most importantly, her daughters’ future, for she doesn’t want them to follow in her footsteps. “I want my kids to go to school and be educated. I don’t want them to be uneducated and stupid like their mother.” Oeurn said she is going back to her hometown next year to work in the rice field as a rice transplanting coolie, even though the income might be lower than construction work, the difficulty level is also lower and more importantly she can take care of herself too. Her request on behalf of female construction workers is that their wages need to be reviewed and increased to the equivalent of their male counterparts.