Five garment workers died in Kompong Speu province on Tuesday morning when the open-topped truck they were riding in on the way to work flipped over while attempting to overtake another truck.
The incident once again drew attention to the notoriously dangerous commute faced by factory employees on a near daily basis.
Kong Pisei district governor Ma Savath said the accident occurred at about 6:30 a.m. on National Road 41 when the driver, who had veered into the oncoming lane in order to overtake the second truck—also packed with factory workers—attempted to re-enter the correct lane to avoid an approaching vehicle.
“According to witnesses, the two trucks were heading in the same direction and one tried to overtake the other but saw a car coming in the opposite direction and turned right, but hit the other truck and overturned,” he said.
Mr. Savath said three workers died at the scene, while another died on the way to a local hospital.
Deputy provincial police chief Meas Samoeun said a fifth garment worker died after arriving at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital and that all five victims were women, aged between 20 and 39.
He said a total of 67 garment workers from both trucks were injured, 15 of them seriously.
“It was the mistake of the driver who tried to overtake the other truck because he was careless,” Mr. Samoeun said. “Police are searching for the driver, who fled the scene.”
A statement from the Labor Ministry said the five victims were all employed at the Now Corp factory in neighboring Kandal province, and put the number of injured at 68.
Garment worker Va Sopha said she had been riding in the truck that did not overturn and suffered a minor knock to the chest during the accident. She said there were more than 100 garment workers riding in the two trucks combined and corroborated the official account.
“The other driver caused the problem,” she said. “He tried to overtake my truck but could not because a big truck was coming in the opposite direction. Then he turned right and hit my truck, sending us onto the shoulder together.”
A spokesman for the Labor Ministry could not be reached for comment. The ministry-run National Social Security Fund is meant to pay out compensation to injured workers and the families of workers who die in work-related accidents if their employers are paying into the scheme.
The roofless, seatless trucks that ferry many of the country’s roughly 700,000 garment workers to and from their factories every day are notoriously dangerous and poorly regulated.
Luy Chhin, deputy director of the National Police’s public order department, said that roughly three in four of the people who drive such trucks are unlicensed.
Asked whether the drivers were loading their trucks with too many passengers, he said they should be carrying “a suitable number of workers.” Asked what that number was, he referred to the new Land Traffic Law, which took effect this month but is being reviewed for possible amendments.
The law says passenger vehicles should not transport more people than there are available seats “as determined by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.”
Men Chansokol, deputy director of the ministry’s land transportation department and a member of the National Road Safety Committee, said she did not know what the number of required seats was for such trucks, or whether one had even been set.
“I’m not sure about this, so I can’t comment,” she said, and hung up.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)