Research into the effects of heat stress on sugarcane workers in Kompong Cham province found that productivity was dramatically reduced as daytime temperatures soared, a troubling finding given Cambodia’s lagging labor efficiency and expected warming over the next 30 years due to climate change.
The study, based on research conducted in early 2015, found that the number of sugarcane bundles individual workers collected each day fell by 42 percent when temperatures rose by 2 degrees Celsius—down from about 35 bundles per day at 29.9 C to 20 bundles at 31.1 C—largely due to fatigue and heat exhaustion.
Kongkea Phan, dean of the science and technology faculty at Phnom Penh International University who worked on the project, warned that by 2050, the agricultural sector could incur major productivity losses due to climate change-related warming.
“The findings relate to all agricultural workers,” he said. “We want to develop guidelines with the government to help workers.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labor rights group Central, said that although there were no specific health guidelines for heat stress, Cambodian Labor Law compels companies to provide a safe environment for workers.
“[The] Labor Law makes companies liable to provide working conditions that are safe,” he said.
The report provides further evidence of the country’s labor inefficiency, also highlighted in a report released in January by the World Economic Forum that placed Cambodia in the bottom 20 percent of countries for labor productivity and GDP per capita.
Neither the health nor labor ministries could be reached for comment on the study, which is currently undergoing peer review.
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