This article edited by Taing Keoratanah is from VOD News, Cambodia's independent news website, and has been republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement. This is a translation of the original article in VOD Khmer.
When Poeun Da quit his job at a Nom Pen textile factory to drive a tuk-tuk (a three-wheel autorickshaw) in 2019, his $ 3,000 investment in the vehicle seemed worthwhile. Da claimed to be able to earn a minimum of 100,000 rails (US $ 25) a day, and between $ 500 and $ 600 a month, for transporting locals and tourists around the capital through rental car mobile apps.
Such was the case until the mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic made its way in Cambodia – increasing from one to more than 100 confirmed cases – and dealt a blow to its neighborhood. Now he earns between 2.50 and 5 dollars a day, as he explains:
It’s really hard, bro! To be frank, in one day, (I get) only one ride. Today, from morning till night, I had only one ride, and I need to pay to the (ride-hailing) company and some for gas.
It is very hard, friend! To be frank, in one day alone (I manage to make) a trip. Today, from morning until night, I have only made one trip, and I have to pay the company (car rental) and the gasoline.
Tuk-tuk drivers like Da lose their income due to the reduced number of tourists in Cambodia and the locals deciding to stay home. At the same time, many informal workers have been excluded from the limited social welfare that formal workers have access to during the economic downturn.
Cambodia has recorded 122 cases of COVID-19 since January, with almost all patients recovered and with no quarantine observed. The Ministry of Health has not reported any new cases of coronavirus since April 12, nor has any death from COVID-19 been confirmed.
However, according to the World Health Organization, more than three million people worldwide have contracted the virus, and more than 210,000 deaths have been counted, with the result that many nations have restricted travel in and out of its borders.
Cambodia has passed a travel ban on people from Spain, Italy, France, Germany, the United States, and Iran. The government has also closed schools, cinemas, museums, nightclubs, and gyms, and has temporarily banned religious activities and other public gatherings.
Although most Nom Pen stores, cafes, and restaurants continue to serve, tuk-tuk drivers say people go out less and less since restrictions were introduced in March.
Vorn Pao, president of the IDEA, an independent democracy and informal economy group, claims that informal workers, such as taxi drivers or tuk-tuk drivers, have had to face a sharp drop in income since the coronavirus hit Cambodia. , for their unstable work and the threatening loans that many resort to to buy their vehicles.
If the virus and its impact on the economy persist, Pao says that drivers could be forced to leave their jobs in the capital and return to their homes in the province.
At his vehicle-buying and selling shop in Stung Meanchey commune, Ry Silay confirms that he still buys tuk-tuks in good condition, but at a price equivalent to $ 200 or $ 300 less than the value of the vehicle before the pandemic. However, Silay admits that he has not bought any tuk-tuk in the last two months:
The difference between (the number of) buyers and sellers is big. There are five, six or seven (drivers who want to sell their tuk-tuk) a day, but there are almost no (buyers) in a day, maybe one or two, so we cannot sell.
The difference between (the number of) buyers and sellers is great. There are five, six or seven (drivers who want to sell their tuk-tuks) a day, but there are hardly (buyers) in a day, maybe one or two, so we can't sell them.
Hout Ieng Tong, President and CEO of Microcredit Lender Hattha Kaksekar Limited (HKL), explains that his company will help clients who work as tuk-tuk drivers. It should be noted that the National Bank has urged microfinance institutions to offer borrowers some help due to the impact that COVID-19 has had on their work.
No tourists to transport
When Cambodia's economy began to feel the impact of the global recession in mid-March, Prime Minister Hun Sen predicted that tourism would be one of the sectors most affected by the pandemic.
In April, the spokesman for the Civil Aviation Secretariat, Sinn Chanserey Vutha, informed journalists that international visitors had decreased 20% in January, 50% in February, more than 70% in March and 90% in April .
Mao Yorn, a 40-year-old driver parked outside Nom Pen International Airport, explains that he previously earned $ 25 a day by driving tourists and others through various vehicle rental applications. His income was enough to pay $ 300 a month on his $ 5,000 loan from Cambodia Post Bank.
However, as the number of coronavirus cases in Cambodia increased, the number of clients who approached him in person or through applications decreased:
Today, as a whole from morning till night, I have not provided one service, and tomorrow, I'm not sure whether one will come or not. Finding a construction job is probably better.
All day today, from morning to night, I have not provided any services, and I am not sure if someone will come tomorrow or not. It will probably be better to look for a job in construction.
In an April report, the World Bank predicted that the poverty rate among Cambodia's hospitality workers – including transport, tourism and restaurant employees – could rise to more than 20% if average earnings were reduced to half for two quarters. It also warned that the impact on informal workers would be aggravated. In March, industry experts said that tourism would suffer the consequences of the pandemic for at least two quarters, and even longer.
“How is the state going to have so much money?”
Alongside various economic initiatives to help the struggling tourism sector, Hun Sen announced in March that unemployed tourism sector workers who have lost their jobs may qualify for vocational training courses. However, the prime minister indicated in April that workers in the informal economy – including drivers – would not have access to funds that are granted to suspended textile workers.
Hun Sen stated on April 7:
For those who have the ID poor card, the state will intervene. But as you asked me, motorbike-taxi drivers have asked if there is any solution. (They must) sell their motorbikes first for spending and buy rice to eat, because if they all come and ask for a solution, (we are going to) die. How could the state have this much money?
The State will intervene for those who have the IDPoor card. But as you ask me, motorcycle taxi drivers want to know if there is a solution. First (they have to) sell the motorcycles and spend what they receive on rice to eat, because if everyone comes to ask for a solution, (we will) die. How is the state going to have so much money?
According to Pao, president of IDEA, who is based on research carried out by his association, around 50,000 tuk-tuks can be found operating thanks to mobile applications to rent vehicles, and about 10,000 tuk-tuks made in Cambodia providing services. in the tracks.
Luy Lary, chief marketing officer for Cambodian car rental company PassApp, acknowledged the pressure on the company's drivers, and announced that management was thinking about how to help its workers.
In 2019, drivers protested PassApp's decision to cut fares and increase the company's commission from 13% for each trip to 15%.
For the Da driver, the deadline to repay his $ 2,000 loan to HKL is becoming increasingly worrying. Rather than expecting slight help from car rental companies or the government, Da said he considered the idea of selling his tuk-tuk and looking for a job on a construction site, or going back to a textile factory.
The latter sector has witnessed more than 130 factories request the suspension of its production, which has affected nearly 100,000 workers in recent months.
If the situation is still like this, we do not know what to do. If we cannot make enough money, we can only sell our tuk-tuks to cover daily expenses and bank loans. If we do not make sales, we can't repay loans.
If the situation continues like this, we don't know what to do. If we don't earn enough money, we can only sell our tuk-tuks to cover daily expenses and bank loans. If we have no sales, we cannot repay the loans.