Garment workers continue to die in traffic accidents on their way to and from the factory, a new report highlighting the deadly commute in Cambodia’s largest industry shows.
In the report, titled The Dangerous Journey of Garment Workers in 2014, the Ministry of Labour’s National Social Security Fund (NSSF) says 73 people died in crashes last year, a slight rise from 67 in 2013. Preliminary government statistics indicate that at least 2,148 people died in traffic accidents overall last year in Cambodia.
While there were slightly fewer overall accidents in the garment industry, the number of injuries actually increased, from 4,703 in 2013 to 4,737 a year later.
Although trucks with standing-room only are often blamed for the spate of commuter deaths in the garment industry, the overwhelming majority of accidents involving workers last year – 2,669 – involved motorbikes, according to the report.
However, with 348 cases, trucks were still listed as the second-most dangerous form of transportation, while tuk-tuks accounted for 52 accidents. In 31 cases, the report said, “other” means of transport were to blame.
Cheav Bun Rith, head of the policy office at the NSSF, blamed the accidents on reckless driving and the fact that many factory-employed drivers don’t have a licence.
“We don’t know why they do not come to go for [the licence] exam, so we have a project with the Ministry of Public Works [and Transport] and the Ministry of Interior to teach the Traffic Law, driving techniques and to have exams at the garment factory directly,” he said.
There are going to be a lot of exams.
According to the report, in 2014, only 786 factory drivers had licences out of a total of 1,600, coming out to a little less than 50 per cent.
One driver, Chan Sanvan, said he hasn’t gotten around to taking the test, but it’s something he intends to do.
“I do not have a driving licence yet, because there has been no time go to take the exam to get it, but I will try,” he said.
Ear Chariya, an independent road safety consultant, slammed garment factory trucks, the mode of transport that has become the most visible in the industry.
“Putting the worker in the vehicle is like putting an animal on the truck,” he said. “They don’t have seats, they don’t have safety protection, and most of the vehicles are not really safe . . . most are old.”
Chariya encouraged factories or the government to invest in better transportation.
“If they can change to a good vehicle like a bus, it would be much safer for them. But in order to change that, if there’s no support from the factory or the government, it’s not possible. They have to pay more.”
But for now, it seems officials tasked with combating the problem are training their efforts on the drivers, not their vehicles.
Bopha Phany, deputy director of the Department of Public Works and Transport, appealed to drivers to focus on safety first, because, “as you know, the factory truck loads many garment workers in the vehicle”.
Accidents in which passengers are thrown from the cabs of trucks are hardly confined to the garment industry, as one such incident in Battambang province illustrated yesterday.
Police say that a stray power wire was slung across the road, causing several people to fall out of a Nissan pick-up truck travelling to Sampov Loun district. There were no deaths, but one person was seriously injured and sent to Battambang town for treatment.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOE FREEMAN