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Action urged on builder deaths

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Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Builders' federation president Sok Sovandeith says too many construction workers are dying on the job.

THE president of the Cambodia National Federation of Building and Wood Workers has called on the government to enforce workplace safety laws to stem an unacceptably high rate of deaths and injuries among construction workers.

No official figures are available, but Sok Sovandeith said at least one construction worker died every day in the Kingdom and many others were injured. "We don't know the exact figures because the construction companies hide them," he said.

He blamed the lax attitude of both the government and construction companies towards workplace safety.

"Construction companies do not provide a good working environment and safety equipment like boots, hard helmets, gloves and safety harnesses," he said.

Im Chamrong, director general of the Department of Construction at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, acknowledged worker protections were necessary, but said it was a matter for the construction sector and the wider government, not his ministry.

"Nowadays we do not have any law to protect construction workers, but hopefully in the future the government will require construction companies to buy insurance to protect them," he said.

"If construction companies, workers and the government agree to work together, I think that we can push through a law to protect construction workers as soon as possible."

But Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said the existing labour law already covered all workers in Cambodia, including those in the construction sector. New legislation was not needed, he said.

Under Article 230 of the Kingdom's Labour Law of 1997, employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace and are liable for all work-related accidents that occur. Managers may be liable for workers' compensation in the event of injury or incapacitation. However, a ministerial order, or prakas, to enforce the workplace safety provision has not yet been issued.

At least one construction worker dies every day in the Kingdom...

Under the law, enforcement would be the responsibility of the Labour Inspection Department of the Labour Ministry, not the Construction Ministry.
Im Chamrong blamed workers rather than construction companies for the lack of safety equipment on the job. "This is the traditional Khmer way of working," he said. "They do not have to use any construction equipment and I can say that they do not want to use equipment."

He added that construction companies should fine workers that do not use safety equipment.

 ‘Govt must take lead'

Sok Sovandeith said construction companies had proven they were uninterested in protecting workers. The government needed to take the lead on enforcement of worker safety rather than leaving it to the sector, he said.

"[The construction companies] are not interested in working conditions," he said. "I try to go down to construction sites to help construction workers by training them how to work safely but many companies do not allow me to go into the construction site."

Ouk Pov, a construction worker who declined to name the company he worked for in Phnom Penh, said that in five years on the job he had never been provided with safety equipment. "I tried to work hard every day," he said. "I was forced to work in dangerous conditions, but I never thought too much about it because I need money to support my family."

The sector employs between 45,000 and 50,000 construction workers like Ouk Pov, according to Lao Tip Seiha, director of the construction department. Unskilled workers receive US$4 per day in wages, skilled workers $150 to $250 per month and architects and engineers $600 to $1,200 per month.

A step in the right direction

Sok Sovandeith acknowledged that the recent establishment of an employer-funded workplace insurance scheme to cover accidents was a step in the right direction, but that accidents needed to be prevented rather than simply compensated.

The National Social Security Fund (NSSF ) fund, which was established last month,  requires contributions from employers equal to 0.8 percent of each employee's salary. However, the fund's head, Ouk Samvuthyea, said just four construction companies from Phnom Penh had so far contributed to the fund.

The fund will pay for the medical treatment of injured workers and daily wages during treatment. Workers who sustain permanent injuries that prevent them from returning to work will receive premium payments for life, while families of workers will receive a subsidy from the NSSF in the event of death.

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