Civil society organisations (CSOs) have urged the government to take preventative measures and tougher action following a series of tragic building collapses that have claimed nearly 70 lives since last year.
The call was made during a conference jointly organised by the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central) and the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
They called on the authorities to take measures to ensure safety at construction sites, and said more than 100 CSOs planned to submit a joint petition pushing the government to address the issue.
Citing the petition, they said making construction companies comply with quality and safety standards was vital to protect workers from danger.
“Staying at construction sites poses major risks to the lives of workers. Both contractor and construction owners must not be allowed to get away with criminal cases. They cannot be allowed to just provide victims with compensation.
“Effective law implementation requires stricter and more effective measures,” the petition said.
On the collapse of the building in Kep province, the CSOs said law enforcement officials and the authorities must be held accountable before the law and without tolerating any individual or their accomplices.
“If the case was tolerated, it shows that applying the law will not be effective in the future. [The authorities] have to search for offenders and punish them under Cambodian law. Accomplices and initiators must be held liable as the perpetrators themselves.
“The relevant authorities have to be held accountable for the incident and be as liable to punishment as the perpetrators themselves to ensure victims receive justice,” the CSOs stressed.
A study by the CSOs showed that very few workers who serve in the construction sector were covered by insurance when occupational accidents happened.
Only nine per cent of workers were covered by insurance policies provided by their employers and only some five per cent of them were registered under the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) programme.
At the conference on Wednesday, BWTUC president Sok Kin demanded that the government guarantee quality and safety in the construction sector.
“If the government continues to maintain the current mechanism, the problem will remain and workers in the construction sector will continue to suffer. Just urging those responsible to heed law enforcement in the sector is also a problem,” he said.
Central programme coordinator Khun Tharo said in the past, more than 100 CSOs and unions had submitted a similar petition urging the government to prevent incidents of building collapses.
Unfortunately, he said, such incidents continued unabated with the latest happening in Kep. It had victimised 59 workers and caused 36 deaths, he said.
Tharo also said that after the incidents, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Chea Sophara acknowledged that there had been many illegal constructions in Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
This showed the weakness of law enforcement by the ministry and relevant authorities, including those at national and sub-national levels.
“This problem in the construction sector is so big that we have to stop it. We saw what happened in Preah Sihanouk and Kep provinces.
“Though the government has taken some measures, effective law enforcement remains a major challenge for officials at the national and sub-national levels,” Tharo said.
He urged the government to effectively carry out regular work inspections and check the safety conditions and standards of construction workers in a transparent manner. Construction companies in the Kingdom, he said, must be registered with the NSSF.
Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction spokesman Seng Lot could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
But government spokesman Phay Siphan said the request and call of the CSOs and unions were positive.
“Having the CSOs and unions expressing such views is a good thing. It is good to pay attention to protecting our workers’ safety. The government headed by Prime Minister Hun Sen is a government that listens to opinions in all situations and responds to our citizens,” he said.