Court Charges Bus Driver Over Deadly Garment Worker Crash

The Svay Rieng Provincial Court on Wednesday charged the bus driver who slammed into a van full of garment workers, killing its driver and 17 passengers, with unlicensed driving and careless driving causing death.

Prosecutor Hing Bunchea said that Le Van Tung, 43, a Vietnamese national, faces two to five years in jail if convicted for his role in the deadly crash that killed 18 and left 21 others injured in Svay Teap district on Tuesday.

“We have already charged the bus driver and we are now preparing to build a case to send him to a judge,” Mr. Bunchea said.

Police and witnesses to the crash said that Mr. Tung, driving a bus for the 15 SH Transport company, caused the accident by ramming head-on into the van when attempting to overtake a car on National Road 1.

The 38 workers in the van, which had a 15-person capacity, were on their way to the Tai Seng Special Economic Zone in Bavet City, where they worked in a number of different garment factories.

Thousands of garment workers risk their lives every day to get to work by cramming into vans or standing in flatbed trucks, their only economically viable option.

According to a report by the Labor Ministry’s National Social Security Fund, 73 workers died and 789 were injured traveling to work in 2014, the International Labor Organization said in a statement Wednesday.

“Tackling this problem calls for action in a number of areas,” the statement says. “These include a review of regulations and enforcement in the transport sector, the payment of adequate transport allowances to workers, and safety campaigns that target transport providers as well as passengers.”

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said it was not up to his ministry to ensure safe transportation for garment workers.

“Who is responsible for traffic?” he asked rhetorically. “Why don’t you ask the police? Who allows the trucks to drive along the roads? You have to ask the people responsible for vehicle movement along the roads.”

However, Labor Minister Ith Samheng, speaking to reporters at the ministry after inaugurating a new training institute, said the Labor Ministry was taking action to ensure people enjoy a safe passage to work.

“We are now offering training for drivers transporting garment workers because we require those people to respect the law in order to guarantee safety for the workers,” he said.

Run Rathvesna, director of the traffic safety department in the national police, said police could not constantly monitor the roads to ensure people followed the law.

“We are not working every day, so people do not respect the law when our officials are not working to monitor the roads,” he said.

Mr. Rathvesna said that, with the new Traffic Law only coming into play in January, it was not yet being properly enforced.

“We need more time,” he said. “We are now starting to disseminate [information] at schools and garment factories in Phnom Penh to help people understand the new law.”

But independent road safety consultant Ear Chariya pointed out that, under either traffic law, driving a van with 38 passengers is illegal.

“Both the old and new law state very clearly that you cannot overload vehicles,” he said. “It’s not a matter of new law versus old law, it’s a matter of enforcement.”

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