Enhancing social dialogue and negotiation skills of informal economy workers in Cambodia 

By Irene Doda
February 26, 2024
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From 11th to 14th December we held a negotiation skills workshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, for our affiliate IDEA. The goal is to promote successful social dialogue between workers and authorities. 

The negotiation skills workshop was developed In the context of a joint project led by StreetNet, Oxfam, and the Belgian Development Agency and lasted 3 and half days. The participants were all members of the local affiliate IDEA. IDEA (Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Associations) is the biggest trade union representing informal economy workers in the country. It was created in 2005 and since 2006 it has beenrecognised by the state of Cambodia. 

IDEA brings together a wide range of sectors: from informal transport workers, specifically tuk tuk drivers (tuk tuk are tricycles popular in south-east asia for urban transportation), domestic workers, home-based workers and street vendors.  The negotiation skills workshop was facilitated by Nash Tysmans, StreetNet’s regional organizer for Asia. 

A diversity of sectors represented

The diversity of IDEA membership was reflected in the participants of the workshop. The majority was constituted by street vendors, coming not only from Phnom Penh but from several provinces, including rural areas. The participants reflected also the gender balance of the membership of IDEA, composed  by women (70%).  The goal for the workshop was to acquire the basic knowledge of negotiation techniques, so as to improve the dialogue with the local authorities. 

Participants, some of whom had never participated in a formal training, expressed the will to go back to their local communities and share the teachings. “I am myself a trainer in my local group,” said Sou Socheat, one of the participants. “It’s useful to go through the training prepared by StreetNet. I had the chance to go deeper into some topics”. 

Secretary General Vorn Pao addressing the participants

The struggles of informal economy workers in the country 

Cambodia is a developing country. The latest governments have worked to improve the material situation of its citizens, many of whom, however, remain in dire economic conditions. The rural poverty rate remains at 40%. This is especially true for informal economy workers, which constitute 85% of the population. 

One of the first exercises proposed invited the participant to reflect on their struggles as a first step to start the negotiation process. Informal economy workers reported high cost of living and operating in markets (such as high electricity prices and water bills), discrimination instances by policing authorities, difficulty, the rise of inflation especially in the last two years, and debt often paired with difficult access to credit. We have covered, in a previous article, the challenges for informal economy workers to access social protection, and the work that IDEA is doing in this domain.

Turning struggle into social dialogue opportunities

How to tackle all these challenges in a constructive manner? The course was structured along the nine steps of the negotiation process. The steps start with identifying the issues to tackle and have the goal to create a long-term negotiation strategy. 

“I took a very practical approach to learning in this workshop”, says Nash Tysmans. “People had the chance to reflect on real scenarios, also to role-play them. This is an added value that takes the course out of the theoretical realm and into real life. More importantly, our goal was to empower the workers and refine their skills  to negotiate independently”. 

Negotiation skills are fundamental for improving the dialogue between authorities and trade unions. Social dialogue is the process of involving workers, employers and the state in a process that aims at ameliorating the conditions of every citizen. Workers in the informal economy are almost never involved in tri – partite processes. Facilitating social dialogue is a core pillar of StreetNet’s mission. 

Practical learning during the training 

The course in the words of the participants

After graduating I took over my family business as a vendor of soft drinks . I am a member of IDEA ”, tells us Long Chansreyleak, the youngest participant in the workshop, 18 years old. “This is my first time attending such training. I have a lot of new knowledge and met a lot of new people”.  “I wish all of our development partners continue to support us every step of the way” says Heng Leang, another participant of the training and woman street vendor. “So we can form coalitions and collaborate and tackle every social issue”. 

The leadership of IDEA, General Secretary Vorn Pao and Deputy Samphous Von were present at the opening and closing day of the training. Both IDEA and the international project partners are committed to continue supporting street vendors in Cambodia, despite the challenges the country is facing at the moment.