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Funeral payout just ‘sympathy’

A wall at a construction site in the capital’s Meanchey district collapsed on two workers
A wall at a construction site in the capital’s Meanchey district collapsed on two workers on Saturday, killing them both. PHA LINA

Funeral payout just ‘sympathy’

The company that paid the funeral costs of two construction workers killed when a fence collapsed on them on Saturday distanced itself yesterday from the accident, saying it doesn’t own the building site.

The claim came as Meanchey District Governor Kouch Chamroeun vowed to take action against those responsible for the deaths.

Speaking yesterday, Sovan Narith, an engineer for the 999 Company, said his group had nothing to do with the land or the building project.

“We used to own it, but we sold it before it was built on,” he said, adding 999 had paid funeral expenses only out of “sympathy”.

The firm is constructing more than 20 residential buildings behind the site on which Touch Chorm, 17, and Yung Yangthor, 57, were killed when the concrete wall collapsed on them as they dug foundations.

Police said on Sunday that the collapse was an “accident”, and the matter was settled. Chamroeun, however, disagreed.

“We want to find someone responsible for the collapse … [and] for the deaths,” the district governor said.

A half-finished building that abuts the construction site and shared part of the collapsed wall was owned by someone named Thong Chamroeun, he added. He would not, however, confirm whether this man was related to tycoon Thong Sarath, the owner of 999.

The building site itself was empty yesterday, despite workers being told to return to work, and only a family of three who said they were caretakers of the adjoining building – and employees of 999 – remained.

“I’m afraid of another collapse,” admitted Yi Toeur, 48, but said they couldn’t afford to leave the site.

Neighbours, some of them with young children, echoed her fears.

“The fence on the other side already has huge cracks on it,” said Sy Yun, 30. “I worry it, too, will collapse on someone.”

Van Thol, vice president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said there were almost no safety standards when it came to the type of work the victims had been carrying out.

“Unskilled contractors are not experts, and often construction companies hire them on small building projects like this because they are cheap. Then we often see collapses like this.”

Dave Welsh, country manager for labour-rights group Solidarity Center/ACILS, dismissed suggestions the tragedy had been fully dealt with.

“The notion of there being no liability because it was an accident … legally, the only accidents are acts of god [such as] hurricanes,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the employers.”

Construction workers, Welsh continued, were often labelled “informal” workers because many worked without contracts on a day-to-day basis. In fact, Welsh said, they are entitled to the same health and safety protection as anyone else, and the lack of such protections underscored the need for a long-awaited trade-union law aimed at the construction sector.

Highlighting this perception of construction workers as “informal” employees, Leng Tong, director of the Ministry of Labour’s occupational health and safety department, used this term himself.

“I’m not aware of this case – no one from my department has gone to inspect the site,” he said. “It sounds like an informal case … and my department has limited inspectors.”

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