Inspectors from the ministry in charge of construction who were called to investigate a “shaking” garment factory last Tuesday discovered that an entire extra storey had been built without permission or oversight from authorities, officials said yesterday.
As workers returned to the Siu Quinh Garment factory in the capital’s Dangkor district after almost a week off, government officials said they had still not concluded whether the building was safe to work in or what had caused the reported shaking.
“[But] we found that … they were only allowed to build a ground floor and first floor, but they have built one more floor too,” Huy Nara, general director of the construction department at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said. “The building … is used to keep a lot of equipment and workers.”
Tith Khemra, a director of the same department, said the factory was built in 1999 and added to only recently.
“In 2010, they built one more floor without permission from City Hall or the ministry,” he said.
The officials’ discovery came just weeks after the Post reported that the government was yet to increase safety inspections at factories. This was something it had vowed to do after two workers were crushed to death when a storage level – also built without the knowledge of authorities – collapsed at the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kampong Speu province in May.
Last Tuesday, workers at Siu Quinh Garment fled the building after feeling it “shake like an earthquake”, Bouy Srey Mom, 25, said. The factory’s 400-plus workers were given until yesterday off work while ministry officials examined the factory’s structure.
Despite that investigation having not yet finished, employees returned to work yesterday, albeit under a tarpaulin attached to the factory’s exterior wall, Srey Mom said.
“We’ve been moved to work with the textile workers,” she said, adding that workers no longer feared a collapse. “I feel safe now, even if [this workspace] is a bit narrow. But I’m not worried about a building collapse like last time.”
Bun Leng, the factory’s administrative manager, said workers were still only about four metres away from one of the walls they complained had been shaking. Leng, however, defended the safety of the building, saying it had passed a previous inspection.
“Experts from a private company already checked our building and said it was fine. The workers were still worried, so we allowed the ministry to investigate to make the workers feel confident,” he said.
A committee of government officials would continue investigating for at least the next week before sharing their findings, Leng added.
Nara, from the ministry, also said inspectors needed more time to examine the building.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he was not aware of extra construction at the Siu Quinh Garment factory.
“But we do not want any problems that might occur from construction that is made without proper permits. We cannot support illegal add-ons,” he said. “We’re all for increased inspections to ensure that factories are safe and workers are safe.”
If GMAC received confirmation that the extra storey had been built without permission, Loo added, it would contact the factory’s management to “advise them on necessary steps to be taken”.
Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, urged all industry stakeholders to take action to ensure factories are safe.
“I very strongly suggest the government, the brands and all the stakeholders make illegal building inspections a high priority,” he said, adding that it was something that should be extended to other industries. “If we don’t … we’ll regret it in the future.”