After Crash, Travel Allowances for Textile Workers in Spotlight

Following one of the most deadly traffic accidents ever in Cambodia’s textile sector on Tuesday, the secretary-general of the industry’s main employers association said this week that unsafe transport was the fault of workers, who choose not to spend their income on travel.

In the wake of a crash in Svay Rieng province on Tuesday that has now claimed the lives of 18 workers and the driver of an overloaded van that crashed into a tourist bus, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said on Thursday that factory owners were not to blame. 

“We already provide a transportation allowance, but if they choose not to spend it all, there’s nothing we can do,” Mr. Loo said. “It’s not a matter of raising the allowance if they choose to spend it all, which they are not doing.”

However, Chan Sarun, 34, a garment worker from Svay Rieng, said on Friday that she piles into a truck with 50 other workers each morning because that is all she can afford to pay for with her $13 monthly travel allowance.

“I think the factory should increase the transportation allowance because we are not safe enough in these trucks,” she said. “If the factory increased it, I would pay for a safer truck, but right now I have little money and need to use some for meals.”

Nan Sothea, 27, a garment worker in Kompong Speu province, said that she spends $10 a month on transport—out of an $11 monthly allowance—and would likely save some of the extra money if her factory increased that figure.

“I want the factory to give more money for transportation for my safety, and then I can save a little remaining money too,” she said.

Truck driver Nai Dara, 30, transports workers around Svay Rieng and said he charges each worker $11 to $12 a month.

“Normally my truck has about 40 standing workers, but sometimes if lots of workers need to go home in a hurry they fill it with more than 100 workers,” he said.

Mr. Loo from GMAC dismissed on Friday the idea that larger transport allowances would facilitate safer travel for workers.

“That is an argument that is totally unacceptable because it’s not a question that they are not earning enough to travel safely, it’s a matter of choice, they choose to spend their money on something else,” he said.

“Most of them have smartphones, it doesn’t add up. The point is that they are getting [transport allowances of] $10, $7, $12, whatever it is, and they are not spending the full amount of dollars,” he said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, agreed with Mr. Loo that many workers do not spend all of their travel allowance on transport, but said insufficient pay—the industry’s monthly minimum wage is $128—was the reason.

“I think he might be right because…the basic minimum wage is still low so people try to save as much as possible,” Mr. Tola said.

Despite this, Mr. Tola said workers would move toward safer modes of transport if it became financially viable.

“If the current minimum wage responds to the basic worker and her dependencies, I’m sure that workers will choose quality transportation,” he said.

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