Phnom Penh’s men in black

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KT/ Fabien Mouret

Thirty-year-old Mom Sopheavy has been resurfacing a one-kilometer stretch of road since 7am, working with seven others to repair pothole-riddled streets ahead of the Khmer New Year. By 10am, half the street already had a fresh layer of asphalt, about 15cm thick, as the group of eight work around swerving motorcyclists and curious pedestrians.
The men have 18 other roads to resurface before the April national holiday and will have to work throughout the day, regardless of the blistering heat.
“We get paid $120 a month,” fellow workman Mai Theara told Khmer Times, which amounts to no more than $5 a day for 10 hours of work, or $0.50 an hour.
“Sometimes we get paid overtime. $1 per hour,” 25-year-old Takeo province native Sinthea added.
Road resurfacing is a fixture in Phnom Penh as poorly constructed streets deteriorate quickly in part due to the many trucks commuting between various construction sites. Men like Mr. Sopheavy, Mr. Theara and Mr. Sinthea will always have work, albeit in dangerous conditions.
The resurfacing site is cordoned off by orange cones which are immediately ignored by motorists who zip in between asphalt-laying machines and workers shoveling the black sludge. The workers are also provided little to no protective gear, with only two men seen sporting hard hats and none seen in protective face masks or safety boots.
However, they say they are unaffected by the chalky scent of the asphalt mix or the sticky tar on their sneakers. “I’ve only been doing this a week, but it’s not so bad,” Mr. Theara said.
The government last month renewed calls to resurface roads or fix potholes in a bid to make road travel safer. Phnom Penh City Hall also said it will be repairing 57 roads this year, totaling 64 kilometers, at a cost of $10 million.

Source: Khmer Times

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