Nine workers at a Takhmau garment factory were injured when more than 1,000 employees fled in panic Monday after receiving electrical shocks from their sewing machines.
The nine were injured amid a crush of employees on a stairwell after the frightened workers fled on three occasions from their machines. An official at Yung Wah Industrial Co confirmed Wednesday that the employees were told to go back to their work stations twice.
Thok Vin, deputy director of Kandal province’s social and labor department, said Wednesday that two garment workers broke their legs, while seven others sustained cuts and bruises during the panic.
One female factory worker said that workers fled to the ground floor of the factory after about 60 workers received an initial electrical shock.
Coaxed back by factory managers, a second panic ensued when dozens of workers received a second shock, she said. The situation repeated itself a third time before police arrived at the factory, the worker said.
“We were afraid and started running away when people started crying and shouting,” said the factory worker, adding that a Chinese manager and Cambodian supervisors talked the workers back to work saying that it was not unusual to receive electrical shocks from time to time.
Contrary to some local newspaper reports, the factory worker said no one was knocked unconscious by the electrical shocks, but one woman hit her head while backing away from her machine.
Lonh Pisey, chief of administration at Yung Wah, acknowledged Wednesday that workers were ordered to return to their machines. But he claimed only a small number of workers received electric shocks. Lonh Pisey said most workers were injured after they stepped on each other in their blind rush to escape even though they had not received a shock.
“We asked the workers to go back upstairs and work because the technicians had checked the machinery already and thought it was safe,” Lonh Pisey said. “The second time there was no shock to any workers. But the workers felt scared and ran away [from the machines].”
The factory has agreed to pay the medical bills of the injured, he said. Salaries also will be paid to the two workers who cannot attend work because of their injuries, Lonh Pisey said.
Kandal Provincial Deputy Police Chief Tom Vai said Wednesday he went to the factory later to investigate after receiving complaints about the dangerous machinery from workers’ parents.
Tom Vai said company security guards locked the factory gates and only allowed police to enter after electricians had fixed the problem. “When we arrived at the factory everything was safe. They made it difficult for find any evidence,” Tom Vai said.
Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association, said Wednesday night that he was informed by a manager at the factory that no incident had taken place.
The manager claimed that no workers were hurt, said Tan, adding that the manager is wondering why it became such a big deal involving the Ministry of Labor and the police.
Cambodia’s garment industry has been criticized by unions for its poor treatment of workers. Allegations include forced and unpaid overtime and lack of work breaks.
Last month, during the signing of textile export agreements, delegates from the US and the European Union urged a greater effort by the government to improve industry labor conditions.
This week’s incident also comes a month after the government adopted a set of workplace safety regulations.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)