Construction workers, their families and civil society groups on Sunday commemorated the collapse of a building in the coastal city of Sihanoukville last June, with some workers refusing to resume work in the sector.
The building, which was owned by a Chinese national, collapsed on June 22, killing 28 workers and injuring 26 others. Construction worker union Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia held a commemorative and religious service on Sunday to remember the deceased.
Sok Kin, who heads the union, said that little had changed for construction workers across the country, estimating that 70 to 80 percent of workers had no access to safety equipment, such as harnesses, gloves and hard hats, at the worksite.
“Through our observations, obviously 70 to 80 percent of workers don’t obtain such equipment,” Sok Kin said. “But, there are a small number of companies whose reputation is good and who will provide such equipment to workers.”
He said the practice of starting construction activity before receiving a license from the Ministry of Land Management was continuing unabated.
After the collapse in June, the government amended the Law on Construction in November 2019, adding stricter requirements on safety measures at worksites, safety and quality inspections and strengthening permit requirements.
However, in late December, another building collapsed in the coastal province of Kep, killing 36 people, including six children. Again, the government pushed for construction activities to begin only after a permit was issued and banned on-site living facilities for workers.
VOA Khmer contacted Land Management Ministry spokesperson Seng Loth multiple times on Monday but he could not be reached for comment, nor could reporters contact Lor Davuth, another ministry spokesperson.
Construction workers who survived the incident said on Sunday they were still traumatized by the incident and were unlikely to resume working at construction sites.
Mam Thim, who is from Kampot province, was a cement mixer at the Sihanoukville building and survived the crash with no injuries. He said he still remembers the crashing of the cement and metal.
“I still dream of that incident. It still causes me to worry. I forget it some days, but on other days it still seems fresh [in my memory],” he said.
The construction worker, who had been in the sector for around 20 years and helped run his household, said he was apprehensive of returning to similar work.
“It still causes me to worry. I’m afraid that if I go to work there again, the danger will occur again. It seems to me that I am done with this work,” he said.
Mam Thim, in order to continue earning for his family, was working at smaller construction sites, such as individual homes, but did not want to work for larger projects.
Ouk Savath, 31 and another construction worker who survived the collapse, said he would not work on a construction site ever again. He added that workers and the families of the deceased had not received compensation from the construction company.
“What we got so far is from the generous persons, meaning it’s an external donation. The most important thing is that we need compensation from the construction company, so that justice will be given to us,” he said.
Mam Thim, the other worker who survived the collapse, said Prime Minister Hun Sen had given survivors and victims’ families $10,000 each, the Cambodian red Cross had given them $1,250 each and Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol had donated $500 to each of them.
Yim Sotheary, a clinical psychologist who previously worked with post-conflict communities, said workers who had undergone a traumatic experience, such as the building collapse, should receive counselling to alleviate any potential mental health issues.
“I will not conclude that they all have post-traumatic stress disorder. They sometimes could have fears that have not evolved to become a [serious issue],” she said, adding that counselling could reduce any potential mental health ramifications from a traumatic experience.
Four individuals, all Chinese nationals, were arrested in relation to the incident last year, with Khmer Times reporting earlier this month that the trial would open this week. They have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.