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Garment sector looking to tackle road accidents

Thousands of garment workers travel to work standing up in flatbed trucks every day.
Thousands of garment workers travel to work standing up in flatbed trucks every day. Eliah Lillis

Garment sector looking to tackle road accidents

Garment sector stakeholders yesterday mulled over a strategy to tackle the high number of road accidents involving factory workers, an issue that has been a matter of concern to labour rights advocates for years.

The new strategy is being put together by the road safety group AIP Foundation under the auspices of the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program and focuses on four major areas: road safety management, safer infrastructure, better transportation options and educating road users.

A large portion of Cambodia’s more than 700,000 garment and footwear workers commute to their factories standing in the backs of open, flatbed trucks that are frequently involved in sometimes fatal accidents.

Some of the suggested safety improvements include registration of garment worker transportation drivers, improved safety around factories and phasing out the flatbed trucks and replacing them with vehicles with seats and seatbelts. The group also looks to improving adherence to road traffic laws.

The government in 2016 had tried to better monitor truck drivers and to check if they had licences and were following the traffic law, but implementation of the measures was patchy.

Yesterday’s meeting was chaired by Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng, who acknowledged garment worker accidents were an issue that needed to be addressed, and pointed to an initiative in Koh Kong province where factories in the Neang Kok Special Economic Zone were using newer and safer trucks.

“We will encourage the import of more safe transportation to replace the old transportation methods,” he said.

While previous attempts have been made to address such accidents, BFC Program Manager Ester Germans said there was some momentum from the government, brands, factories and workers to reduce the number of traffic fatalities and injuries. But given the complexity of the issue, she said, tangible results could take some time to materialise.

Still, she added, “If there is more control on the drivers and the type of transportation that is being offered, then I am much more hopeful.”

However, truck driver Phon Vanna said he was already earning the bare minimum from workers, around $400 a month, to keep his operation running, and switching to a new truck was out of the question.

“To replace the transportation to a bus or van is unaffordable because the price [for a new vehicle] is about $30,000 to $40,000. It very expensive for us,” he said.

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