Hundreds of factory workers in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district were sent to hospital over the weekend after fainting at the Universal Apparel (Cambodia) Ltd building, amid conflicting claims about the cause of the workers’ illness.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said yesterday that there were no official numbers but estimates from workers suggested that more than 800 women had
fainted in Choam Chao commune. “Workers estimate that around more than 300 workers fainted on Saturday and yesterday there were around more than 500 workers who fainted,” he said.
Fear, poor nutrition and fumes have all been suggested as reasons . Puth Sovann, union leader at the Cambodian Union Federation, said that 101 workers from the fifth floor of the building fainted on Saturday because they were scared.
“They started to fall down one by one after they saw a worker lose consciousness,” he said.
“First, we suspected that they were poisoned by the water they drink in the factory, but only workers from the fifth floor of the factory fainted.”
An administrative officer at Huy Chuen, one of the affected factories housed in the building, declined to be named but said yesterday that “less than a hundred” workers on the second floor of the building fainted yesterday morning.
“Most workers have left the hospital and they are fine,” she said, adding that the factory had given the workers a break until April 18. “They lost consciousness because their health is not good, they don’t eat enough food or get enough sleep.”
A worker from the second floor, who preferred to remain nameless, said that she had fainted yesterday morning because of glue fumes.
“I got a headache and felt dizzy because I smelled the glue from the shoes which made me lose control of myself and fall down,” she said.
The worker added that her team leader had brought face masks for workers after they complained that it was difficult to breathe. “Recently, in the factory a bad smell has been coming from the shoes, making it difficult for the workers to breathe,” she said.
Chheak Ang, director of the municipal department of environment, said that he had instructed his officials to observe working conditions at the factory.
Ouk Samvichea, director of Social Security at the Ministry of Labour, could not be reached for comment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MARY KOZLOVSKI