Earlier this year, the deadly collapse of a seven-floor building in Cambodia’s coastal city of Sihanoukville drew public attention to problems arising from unregulated construction. In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times, Sok Kin, president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, says much needs to be done to improve safety.
KT: The construction sector has been on the rise in Cambodia, yet numerous construction workers have died or been injured while working on construction sites. What can you say about this?
Mr Kin: First of all, please allow me to talk about our context. The construction sector has been a crucial driving force of the country’s economy in the last few years. Just between 2018 and 2019 alone, it increased by 57 to 58 percent. However, in the meantime, when we look at the working condition of the construction workers, it does not seem to have improved in the same proportion to economic development.
KT: Can you explain this issue in detail?
Mr Kin: There is no law or guideline that imposes a minimum wage for construction workers in Cambodia. Another important aspect is their workplace safety. In our Labour Law, the issue of safety in the workplace is indeed mentioned, but it does not state specific compensations for specific accidents. It only says that it is “the responsibility of the employers”. In addition, while the National Social Security Fund focuses on the provision of benefits to employees in the country, most construction workers have not received many benefits from the fund since only a very small percentage of them are members of the NSSF.
KT: What do you think is needed to improve workplace safety in construction sites?
Mr Kin: Firstly, we would like the Royal Government to issue a standard that requires employers to ensure workplace safety for construction workers. Actually, four prakas are being drafted at the moment at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. They are about working in construction sites of high rises, personal protective equipment, living quarters and social security. These prakas are very important for protecting the life and well-being of construction workers in Cambodia.
KT: How do the four prakas improve workers’ safety?
Mr Kin: For example, the prakas about working in construction sites of high rises, when reaching a certain height above ground, there is a provision for working with a safety belt or special ladders. Similarly, the prakas about personal protective equipment requires an employer to equip workers with protection in accordance with their task, such as a mask for welding or a pair of headphones for jackhammering. Meanwhile, according to the prakas on living quarters, an employer or contractor can build rooms for their workers to rent or reside in for free, but they cannot let them live in the building which is being constructed. The prakas also specifically sets the standard size of the room as well as the number of people that can live in each room.
KT: Let’s go back to the wages. How much on average does a Cambodian construction worker earn in one day or one month?
Mr Kin: Their wage is low, around $7.5 to $8 a day, which means it’s about $200 per month. Meanwhile, they have to spend a lot living in the city. Moreover, they have fewer benefits compared to garment factory workers, who in addition to receiving a similar salary, also receive various types of benefits as stated in the Labour Law, including their rides to work which are paid for by factory owners.
KT: How do you think building contractors could easily avoid following the Labour Law in the country?
Mr Kin: It is a weakness of the Ministry of Labour in monitoring the working condition of the workers. The officials do not go to the sites to inspect regularly, which allows the employers to violate the Labour Law. Yet, they react strongly only when something big and bad has already happened. A committee can be created to investigate an incident, but lives are already lost. I believe protection is much better than a cure.
KT: When an accident happens in a construction site, who should be responsible for the injury or death it causes?
Mr Kin: It is very hard to say. Sometimes, it is the authorities who do not monitor the quality of the buildings or licenses. But, in most cases, it is the companies or contractors who do not pay enough attention to their workers’ well-being.
Cross Talk: កិច្ចពិភាក្សាក្រោមប្រធានបទ "ប្រព័ន្ឋសុវត្ថិភាព សម្រាប់កម្មករសំណង់" ជាមួយលោក សុខ គីន ប្រធាន សហព័ន្ធសហជីពកម្មករសំណង់ និងព្រៃឈើកម្ពុជា។
Posted by Khmer Times on Tuesday, 27 August 2019