Victims of last week’s road accident that killed 18 garment workers and their driver spoke yesterday about the moment the light-hearted atmosphere in the minivan they were travelling in was shattered, while relatives told of the financial struggle they now face.
“We were all just talking and having fun,” explained Morn Sreyvorn, a supervisor at the Kingmaker factory in the Tai Seng Bavet Special Economic Zone, where all of the passengers aboard were heading to work.
“I was sitting next to the door with my back to the driver, so I had no idea the bus was coming,” she said.
But even for many of those facing the oncoming road, there was little warning before the impact, not just because the scrum of 39 people in a vehicle built for 15 obscured their view, but because the jovial atmosphere meant few were paying attention.
“I didn’t see the bus coming because I was messing around with friends,” said Sao Ravy, a construction worker who was sat on the back row. “It was always like that in the bus, we got on really well; there were never any arguments.”
The workers had been travelling to work along National Road 1 in Svay Rieng province early on May 19, when an oncoming passenger bus attempted to overtake a sedan and decimated their minivan.
Thirteen garment workers and the minivan’s driver were killed instantly, with three more dying as they received treatment in the hours that followed. Last week, doctors at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital confirmed another had died, while today, three remain on life support. A dozen more continue to receive treatment at Calmette and others remain in Svay Rieng provincial hospital.
According to the victims and relatives who spoke to the Post yesterday, the horror of the event is compounded by the fact there were so many family members aboard the minivan.
“Five of my relatives have passed away and seven more are injured,” said Sreyvorn, unable to hold back her tears at the mention of her husband, who was among the dead.
As well as the anguish of their losses, some of the victims are also faced with the dire financial consequences of being unable to work.
According to Ravy, one of two construction workers aboard the minivan, not only are his bosses refusing to pay his $9 daily wage as he recovers, they are also holding back more than $100 owed to him for work already done.
“My father went to the company to ask for my 12 day’s pay, but they did not give it to him. They told him to wait until I am cured and able to go to the factory to get it myself,” he said.
Though the garment workers are getting paid their salaries as they recover, the relatives taking care of them are forced to take unpaid leave to aid in their care.
“My boss allowed me here but said they would not pay me because I am not working,” said Phan Theng. “We had some money donated by government officials, but we’re spending it every day to buy food and other daily necessities.”
It’s a story repeated among all of the relatives at the hospital, surrounded by the camp beds and blankets they sleep on outside the ward where their family members are being treated.
While for some, just getting the time off to take care of their relatives has been a hassle.
“I will have to go back to work tomorrow because I’m afraid I’ll be fired,” says Sreyvorn’s sister Morn Sreyda.
She had only been allowed to spend three days with her sister.