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Plight of border cargo cart haulers

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A man drags his cart towards the Poipet border checkpoint. SUPPLIED

Plight of border cargo cart haulers

Trucks large and small, along with family cars, roll freely in and out of the Poipet International Border Checkpoint, while the use of hand-pulled cargo carts remains restricted. Only small carts are permitted, where large models were once widely employed to transport goods from one side of the border to another.

Poipet, in Banteay Meanchey province, is the only border crossing currently allowing the use of the once-ubiquitous cargo carts.

Twelve o’clock is the time most people take their lunch break, but for 45-year-old cart handler Van Virak, when a job is offered, he must respond immediately.

While eating lunch on his small metal cart 100m in front of the checkpoint, Virak received a call from a customer at the Rong Kluea Market, in Thailand.

Beaming during the conversation, Virak hurriedly pulled his handcart behind him and disappeared over the border to meet his client.

After a while, Virak reappeared dragging his cart, loaded with 30kg of clothes, handbags and belts. The customer handed him 400 baht – or about 45,000 riel – for his trouble.

Taking a break to finish his lunch, Virak told The Post that the work was not easy. The money he makes depends largely on the goods he transports and the kindness of his clients.

“I was very happy with the generous heart of my last customer, he said – usually, I am only paid 350 baht for goods of the same weight,” he said.

He pointed out that the 400 baht he earned was reduced to just 250 after his expenses were deducted.

Virak said he can earn roughly 30,000 or 40,000 riel a day from hauling carts. He could find work which earned him more money, but would have to migrate to Thailand, and he did not want to leave his wife and children behind.

Another cart operator, 43-year-old Mon Chanty, told The Post that because she was female, customers did not want her to carry goods weighing more than 25kg, as they were concerned she would be unable to lift them. The lanes at the Thai Immigration Police checkpoint are narrow, and the carts cannot fit through them.

“I find it difficult to carry 30kg, because when I reach the narrow lanes at the checkpoint, I have to carry the goods on my head and lift the cart with my hands. Because of this, I generally only take loads of around 20kg. I charge a fee of 200-250 baht per trip,” she said.

She said she could earn 25,000 to 30,000 riel a day, provided she was up at 6am. She usually returns home between 8 and 10pm. Her husband works as a laborer transporting vegetables, fish and meat for a trader who has a warehouse next to the border, and earns $350 a month.

“I save some of my husband’s salary and send it to my three children who staying with my parents in my home province while they attend school. The money I earn is for our daily expenses, a rented house and utility bills,” said, Chanty, who was born in Kampong Speu.

Din Puthy, president of the Cambodian Informal Economic Workers Association, has been observing the working conditions of the cart operators.

He said Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the reopening of six out of 10 international border crossings – Poipet, Doung, O Smach, Prom, Cham Yeam and Choam – between Cambodia and Thailand last May; however, only the Poipet checkpoint allowed carts and remorques to transport vegetables across the border to earn a living, and not as openly as before Covid-19.

“There are only about 30 workers pulling carts at the checkpoint, and they are barred from using the large carts that they used to employ, under the reason that the large carts cause traffic jams and disorder on public roads. Despite this, the authorities allow large and small trucks to enter and exit freely,” he said.

Cambodian-Thai border liaison officer Yal Bun Pov, who is stationed at the checkpoint, told The Post that although the crossing was open, it was not open under the same conditions as the pre-Covid-19 era.

He added that all travelers – especially foreign tourists – passing through are required to present a Covid-19 vaccine certificate, passport and visa. Workers and traders who live nearby are allowed to cross for their work as usual, but must pay a fee of 50 baht, or 6,000 riel for stamping on border pass.

“In the interests of safety and public order, the provincial authorities of the two countries are not allowing large carts to cross the border, as was done before. Trucks and small carts are welcome to do so, however,” he said.

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