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A man looks over the wrecked remains of a van, that was transporting garment workers in Svay Rieng province on Tuesday, after it was involved in a deadly traffic accident. Vireak Mai

Unions urge safer commutes

A coalition of 10 labour unions this week called for the government and garment factories to provide workers with safe transportation, on the heels of a gruesome traffic accident that killed 18 people on their way to work.

In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the unions said financial circumstances force garment workers to rely on unsafe transport to and from work. The government and factories, the statement says, should take measures to offer safe and free transportation for factory employees.

“Private worker transportation systems do not provide safety, because the vehicles carry too many people,” read the statement, released after a bus ploughed through a minivan carrying 39 workers on Tuesday morning.

Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, one of the 10 signatory unions, said the government and factories should work together to create a safe transportation scheme. The National Social Security Fund will compensate workers injured in the crash and the families of those killed, said Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour.

While agreeing that the government and factories should financially support workers injured in Tuesday’s collision and begin a free transportation method for workers, Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said the brands the factories supply to should also contribute.

“It really requires all brands [in order] to stop this terrible practice of stuffing as many workers as possible into an [unsafe] vehicle,” Welsh said, adding that brands ”should intervene financially”.

Workers who were injured and killed in the accident were employees of factories including Elite (Cambodia) Co, an Adidas supplier; Kingmaker (Cambodia) Footwear Co, a New Balance supplier; Eastern Industrial Enterprise Inc, a CNA supplier; and Sheico (Cambodia) Co, a Body Glove supplier, according to Joel Preston, a consultant for Community Legal Education Center.

An Adidas Group spokeswoman in an email confirmed that two workers from one of their supplier factories were killed in the accident and four others were injured. She said the company is in close contact with Elite to ensure victims receive proper care and compensation.

CNA is also remaining in close contact with their supplier Eastern Industrial, where two victims worked, an email from a spokesman said. He did not specify what action, if any, CNA planned on taking.

Neither brand responded to questions about taking a role in providing safe transportation. New Balance and Body Glove did not respond to requests for comment.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said on Wednesday that workers who were injured or killed in the accident and their families should and will be compensated. But, he added, the crash was the fault of a bus driver illegally passing another vehicle, and is not indicative of a wider issue with transportation safety.

However, International Labour Organization, in a statement on Wednesday, disagreed, and also proposed funding for the safer transport of workers. “Coordinated and comprehensive measures that bring together a number of national stakeholders are necessary,” the statement says.

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