The International Labour Organisation’s Better Factories program is seeking funding for a campaign to prevent “future fainting incidents” at the garment factories it monitors, following the release on Friday of the results of its investigation into them, according to a document obtained by the Post.
The near US$107,000 campaign would encourage workers to pay more attention to health and hygiene through a “Workers Helpful Hints Calendar”, said the campaign’s concept note. The campaign could also encourage factory owners to attend training sessions on occupational safety and communications.
A contest could also be held to encourage song writers to write popular songs that “address themes related to the prevention of factory faintings” and “cash prizes will be awarded for the best songs”, the concept note said. An episode of the popular soap At the Factory Gates could also focus on fainting incidents, it suggested.
The note was discussed after the release of the findings of a probe into mass fainting incidents that identified a range of factors but no single culprit. Research found several issues, including heat, noise, chemical safety, sanitation and nutrition as factors linked to fainting.
The labour ministry official leading the new sub-committee on mass fainting research and prevention, however, said the ministry would conduct its own investigation because the one conducted by Better Factories had failed to identify “the real cause” of the fainting. Dr Pok Vannthat also said his committee was trying to find “the hidden issue” causing the fainting, but did not say when the study would be completed.
Jill Tucker, chief technical advisor of Better Factories Cambodia, said “some of the causes [of fainting] are excessive heat at the workplace [and] excess of overtime work”. She also identified “mass psychogenic illness” as a cause.
Kea Cheachea, the administrative chief at Zhen Tai Garment, which had a mass fainting incident in August, said it had been exaggerated. Media reports said 35 staff had collapsed, but only 10 did, she said. Local authorities arrived at the scene with a slew of ambulances and rushed workers with unrelated symptoms to hospital, which exaggerated the number of fainters, she explained.
Ath Thun, president of union worker Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, blamed the low wages for the fainting, saying garment workers were not being paid enough to eat well. He also urged the labour ministry to better enforce existing laws he says are routinely ignored by some factory owners.