The president of one of Cambodia’s largest labor unions representing the apparel sector expressed concern on Thursday about the growing number of garment factory workers fainting from overwork and harsh factory conditions during the past few days.
Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, an independent union affiliated with the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), said at least 100 workers had fainted over the past four days due to lack of adequate food, physical exhaustion and exposure to chemical odors.
“The workers fainted due to their deteriorating health and work environment,” Ath Thon said. “But the most important reason is their low salary.”
The fainting occurred in garment factories in Kandal, Kampong Seau and Takeo provinces in the southern part of the country, where most of the garment factories are located, he said.
Besides the more than 100 who became seriously ill from factory work, hundreds of others reported not feeling well, he said.
Ath Thon urged the government to resolve the issue by improving the minimum wage so garment factory workers could buy enough food to eat. They currently are paid a minimum wage of U.S. $128 a month.
He also implored factories to improve their physical environments.
“The work environment is bad, workers don’t have enough oxygen to breathe,” he said.
He Lim, president of the Cambodian Union Federation, said at least 40 exhausted workers had fainted in another factory on Thursday after vomiting because they did not have enough oxygen.
At least 500 factory workers in 11 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces fainted between January and June 2015, a decrease from the 890 who passed out during the same period last year, according to Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor.
Last month, several thousand of workers had protested in front of the Ministry of Labor in the capital Phnom Penh to demand that the minimum wage be increased to U.S. $177 per month and their work conditions be improved.
The same day, Ath Thon led about 200 workers in petitioning parliament over union rights and a minimum wage increase, while a third protest of roughly 1,000 workers led by president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers Pao Sina made similar demands.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.