Five female garment workers, one of them pregnant, were killed and 68 others injured yesterday morning after a truck overloaded with garment workers plunged into a ditch. The accident raises questions yet again about the perilous state of the Kingdom’s transportation system for more than 700,000 labourers in its clothing industry.
The accident happened at 6:45am on the border of the Kong Pisei and Samrong Tong districts in Kampong Speu province, according to Touch Phearith, Kong Pisei district police chief in charge of traffic.
“[Two] trucks were loaded with factory workers, and one truck attempted to overtake the other, and suddenly [a third] truck came up ahead, so the first truck veered off into a ditch and flipped over, causing some to die,” he said.
Three workers died at the scene while two more died on the way to hospital. Another 15 were seriously injured while 52 sustained light injuries, with victims sent to hospitals in the area and in Phnom Penh.
The overturned truck’s driver fled the accident scene and authorities are currently searching for him at hospitals, believing he may be injured.
The workers were driving to the Now Corp factory, a supplier for large US firms like Target, Jones New York, Walmart and Kohl’s, according to a Labour Ministry statement.
Factory worker Choeung Sav was riding on the truck that was overtaken and witnessed the accident.
Sav said the overturned truck’s driver, Ra Morn, often overtook other vehicles and drove very fast. She said her truck was carrying about 50 workers while Morn’s had about 70.
Sav was one of two workers the Post spoke to yesterday who insisted that Morn had jumped from the vehicle immediately before it crashed into the ditch.
“Because [the driver] jumped out after he overtook us, there was no driver, so it began to spin around [and crashed],” she said.
Her account was backed up by Theng Sarun, an injured worker who was recovering at Kampong Speu Provincial Hospital.
The crash has raised concern again about the manner in which Cambodia’s garment workers are transported to work, typically packed into open-air trucks standing up to allow as many passengers as possible.
One major issue is that drivers are informal workers with little to no training. Factories have no control over them, instead paying monthly transportation allowances directly to workers.
“About 80 per cent of those truck drivers don’t have driver’s licences and drive without having taken any lessons,” said Sieng Sambath, president of the Worker Friendship Union Federation, adding that overloading was a common issue.
“For example, if a van’s capacity is 25 passengers, they shouldn’t load 40 passengers, but that’s because drivers get little money from workers. In this case, the government should discuss with garment factories about how much
the factory and the government pays to subsidise transportation fees.”
Pheng Sovichaneou, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said overloading was illegal but conceded it still took place.
He said authorities would cooperate to further “educate” drivers about the issue.
Ken Loo, spokesman for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said factories had no role to play in the accidents since most of them were due to “human error”.
“What does this have to do with the factory?”
But William Conklin, country director at the Solidarity Center, said little could be achieved in the short term without more involvement from factories and brands, which have the power to pool resources together.
Conklin was not optimistic on that front.
“Labour is treated as a commodity here,” he said.