Commutes Under Scrutiny as Truck Crammed With 80 Workers Overturns

Authorities and labor advocates say they have been ramping up efforts to reduce the danger of daily commutes faced by garment factory workers, even as a truck crammed with 80 workers overturned in Phnom Penh on Thursday morning, leaving about 40 injured.

Twenty of the mostly female workers were seriously injured—many with broken arms and scraped faces—after the 2.5 ton Hyundai truck skidded on its side for 20 meters after attempting to overtake a tuk-tuk at high speed in Chroy Changva district at about 6:30 a.m., said Mean Thon, Bak Kheng commune police chief.

“The truck went out of control when the driver tried to turn back into his lane,” Mr. Thon said.

Deputy district police chief Meach Hong said the injured were strewn across the road when he arrived. He and others carried them to the sidewalk to await ambulances from Calmette Hospital, which arrived about 30 minutes later, he said.

The driver fled the scene and remains at large.

Dozens of factory workers on overloaded trucks are killed and hundreds injured every year on Cambodia’s roads during their morning and evening commutes.

Run Rothveasna, director of the Interior Ministry’s department of public order, said government officials had been visiting factories since the beginning of the year to warn them about the dangers of overcrowded commutes and the penalties of 100,000 riel, or about $25, drivers face if caught with more passengers than seats.

The new traffic law says the Transport Ministry will decide how many seats certain vehicles must have, but officials have said no decision had been made regarding the trucks that transport workers.

In many cases—such as in Thursday’s accident—workers stand packed on the truck beds and may only have some metal framing, or each other, to hold on to. So far, only a few drivers have been fined because there have not been enough officers available to police the practice, Mr. Rothveasna said.

“We’ve gone to educate about 100 garment factories, and issued over 1,000 driving licences” to truck drivers, he said.

Esther Germans, the program manager for Better Factories Cambodia, an International Labor Organization program to improve working conditions, said clothing companies were “very, very receptive” to appeals to address the dangerous and deadly commutes.

Concerned companies have formed a working group with the program to tackle the issue, with an immediate aim of exploring what has and has not been working, Ms. Germans said.

“We are taking road accidents involving factory workers very seriously,” she said. “Brands who are addressing challenges like unskilled drivers, awareness-raising and poor vehicle quality are sharing their best practices around this.”

“The issue is very, very complicated,” she added.

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