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After Collapse, Workers Still Fearful at Wing Star Factory

Rescue workers and soldiers search through a site of the accident in a shoe factory in the Kong Pisei district of Kampong Speu province, 50 km (30 miles) west of the capital, Phnom Penh, May 16, 2013.
Union leaders say safety improvements have been slow at Wing Star shoe factory, where a mezzanine collapse killed two people earlier this month.

Workers at the factory say they are still afraid of the working conditions there. Meanwhile, the family of one of the workers killed in the May 17 collapse says they will take compensation, rather than protest and risk getting nothing.

“Workers here are really afraid,” an employee of the factory told VOA Khmer Tuesday on condition of anonymity. “Sometimes there’s just a small accident, but some workers fall into a state of unconsciousness, or others just run out of the factory.”

Little changes have been made in the work place, the employee said, despite promises from Wing Star management. Managers for the factory could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers, said the Wing Star accident has stirred no apparent changes sector wide, despite assurances by the government. Part of the collapsed mezzanine has been replaced at Wing Star, he said.

Social Affairs Minister Ith Samheng said after the collapse an investigation would be conducted into the factory, while other safeguards will be put in place to protect workers at other sites, in a sector that employs hundreds of thousands of Cambodians and is a main economic driver for the country.

Meanwhile, Kim Leib, whose 22-year-old daughter, Rim Sareun, died in the collapse, told VOA Khmer she had accepted $15,500 in compensation from the company. But she said she had felt coerced into doing so, threatened that if she did not accept that much, she would get nothing.

“They told me I should accept the money,” she said. “If I still wanted to sue the factory, I might get nothing. I was afraid of their words, so I agreed with them.”