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Gov’t passes buck on faintings

Garment workers sew clothing on a production line at the MAG factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district in January
Garment workers sew clothing on a production line at the MAG factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district in January. Pha Lina

Gov’t passes buck on faintings

Mass faintings in Cambodia’s garment factories do not occur as a result of long hours and arduous working conditions, but from workers’ failure to care for their own health, according to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) director.

During an annual meeting, which mainly focused on a pension scheme for garment workers that is scheduled to go into effect next year, NSSF director Ouk Samvithyea brought up the endemic industrial issue of mass fainting during his speech.

“I want to tell you all that we have looked deeply into the situation of mass fainting, and it is not caused by the work, but mostly because of the workers’ health,” Samvithyea said. “For example, when they get a headache or are slightly ill, they don’t see a doctor, because they think healthcare is too expensive.”

The comment came less than a week after more than 100 workers across two factories fainted on the same day. A Free Trade Union representative at SHIMANO factory in Kampong Speu province said glue fumes caused 28 workers to faint there last Friday. A factory representative at Crystal Martin (Cambodia) Limited in Kandal province said about 120 workers fainted after breathing fumes from battery acid that day.

Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, said such comments were “preposterous”.

“The vast majority of faintings were due to chemicals,” he said.

“It really speaks to a sort of scary level of disengagement.”

Speaking about the pension plan, which has been years in the making, Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng said the ministry, in cooperation with the NSSF, would provide a pension scheme for garment workers that is similar to the retirement plan enjoyed by civil servants.

“In our country, only civil servant officials in the armed forces have ever received a pension when they retire, but garment workers have never received a pension,” said Sam Heng, who did not specify how much retired garment workers would receive under the plan.

“All [garment] workers will now live in good lives when they retire, because they have pension.”

To receive the pension, workers must have had registered with the NSSF for at least 20 years, Sam Heng said. So far, more than 840,000 workers have registered.

The retirement age is set at 55.

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