Factory Fumes Fell Dozens

More than two dozen workers at Winner Garments Manu­facturing Co in the Tuol Kok district of Phnom Penh fainted on the job last week.

Inspector In Khemara from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor said Tuesday that he suspected poor ventilation led to the incident.

“We are unable to specify the cause of the incident, but we suspect the fabric was emitting an odor that might have caused an abnormal working environment,” he said, noting the ministry still is investigating.

Although most of the ill workers recovered on the spot, at least 10 were treated at Calmette Hospital on Saturday afternoon, with two admitted overnight for observation, hospital director Heng Taikry said. Many were suffering from exhaustion and low blood pressure, possibly caused by long working hours, he said.

In Khemara said he found a large quantity of fabric piled up in the Taiwanese-owned factory’s production room, blocking vents and emitting an unusual chemical smell.

However, a spokeswoman for the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia said Tuesday that Winner Garments Manufacturing forces workers to put in overtime by threatening that they will be fired or paid lower wages if they do not. The spokeswoman maintained workers reported they typically work from 7 am to 9 pm.

Sok Rathana, who oversees the factory’s import/export department, conceded on Tuesday that workers often put in overtime hours. He maintained, though, that management does not force employees to work overtime. Rather, the workers request overtime hours in order to earn extra money, he said.

“There is strong competition for salary among the workers,” Sok Rathana said, noting Winner Garments Manufacturing pays by the piece rather than hourly.

“I assume some workers didn’t eat enough lunch and dinner to produce more items than others,” he said, explaining the fainting spell.

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