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Garment worker housing survey disputed

Mom Kunthear / Khmer Times Share:
Garment workers eat while on lunch break. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Unions have disputed the findings of a survey claiming more than half of garment and footwear industry workers live in good housing conditions.

The research, released yesterday by the Worker Health Project, said only two percent of workers in the industry were housed in very poor conditions.

A total of 500 female workers from five factories in Phnom Penh and Kandal province were quizzed about their living and housing conditions as part of the joint survey by Angkor Research, USAID, H&M and Evidence.

The survey found that six percent of workers lived in very good housing conditions, 55 percent in good conditions, 28 percent in average, ten percent in poor and only two percent in very poor conditions.

It said most buildings where workers live had about 12 rooms. Workers tended to rent one room with two or three room mates. The rooms were usually between 16 and 28 square metres, with two windows, one fan and a private toilet.

The survey said two thirds of workers rented from a landlord, while one third lived in their own home.

It added that all the workers had access to water, while half drank bottled water and boiling was the most popular method for treating other drinking water.

All factories provided safe drinking water and 79 percent of survey respondents had access to safe water outside of work.

The survey continued that nearly all workers had access to toilet facilities in their private rooms or buildings, while only four percent used toilets elsewhere.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, yesterday welcomed the survey but claimed the scope of the study was not wide enough to draw conclusions about the whole industry.

“We cannot use this survey as data to apply to all factory conditions across the country because these five factories are the factories in the best condition. We cannot use this as general data because it is not representative,” she said.

Ms Sophorn added that she still saw many garment workers with very bad living and housing conditions.

Rooms were often severely overcrowded, while people had no access to healthy food and faced treacherous journeys to and from work.

“It is good to study workers’ living conditions, but that data is not enough to make conclusions at a national level because a lot of factories and workers are facing worse conditions than those in these five factories,” she said.

“They should do a survey of workers in factories all over the country.”

USAID representative Noah Methew Sprafkin said yesterday that garment factory workers faced many struggles, while most had migrated from rural and remote areas to live in cities.

Speaking at a workshop on the issue, he said they work long hours not only to pay their own expenses, such as housing and food, but also to send money home every month to support their families and children.

“Keeping healthy is a critical issue for these women, because they need to be able to be productive at work,” Mr Sprafkin said.

“However, they do not often get affordable and quality health services, adequate nutrition, or access to clean water and sanitation facilities.”

He added that he hoped the results of the study would help identify the steps that need to be taken to improve the lives of workers.

The garment industry produces more than 80 percent of the country’s exports and accounts for $5 billion in revenue annually.

There are 700,000 workers and approximately 85 percent are women, a majority of whom are under the age of 30.

The garment and footwear industry workers’ minimum wage is $153 per month.

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