Monday, November 16, 2009

BWTUC Promotes Construction Workers’ Health and Safety


The Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) was officially established on November 10 in Phnom Penh to promote the health and safety of construction workers in Cambodia.

The establishment of BWTUC was made through a founding congress jointly organized by the Cambodia Construction Trade Union Federation (CCTUF), the Cambodian Federation of Building Woodworkers (CFBW) and the Cambodian Labor Federation (CLF), supported by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training. The BWTUC merges the CCTUF, CFBW and CLF.

Yim Serey Vathanak, Project Organizer of the Building and Wood Workers’ International Cambodia Project (BWWIC), said that it marked the first time a federation such as BWTUC has been established in order to forge unity and solidarity among the unions in Cambodia.

The purpose of the BWTUC’s establishment is to show solidarity and unity and to reduce the challenges of unions in Cambodia. It is also seeks to improve and promote better working conditions through construction and wood workers’ safety and security as well as living conditions through appropriate wages in Cambodia.

“The main purpose of the BWTUC’s establishment is working to promote construction and wood workers’ health and work safety as well as their living conditions. It is also to improve and strengthen the respect of the Labor Law in Cambodia,” he told The Southeast Asia Weekly during an interview on November 10.

Cambodia’s construction and wood workers are in danger because their employers do not take responsibility for their risks, including healthcare, security and safety while they are working, said Vathanak. He added that this is because Cambodia is currently lacking basic laws on health and safety in construction that would force the employers to take responsibility for their workers’ health, safety and security while working in Cambodia.

Vathanak called on the Royal Government of Cambodian to pay attention to construction and wood workers’ health, working conditions and work safety, and also appealed to the government to issue a regulation announcement on workers’ health and safety for all construction and wood workers nationwide in Cambodia.

According to his organization’s research, Vathanak said about 10,000 workers are currently employed by the construction and wood industries in Cambodia. Due to the global economic crisis, about 30,000 construction workers recently lost their jobs in Cambodia.

“I hope that after the establishment of BWTUC, we will be able to work with the Cambodian government and involved ministries to advocate for and improve our Cambodian workers’ health as well as their workplace safety and living conditions in Cambodia in the future,” he said.

Floro Princisco, Consultation Advisor to the Solidarity Center for the Asian Region, said that the success and future growth of this new organization, BWTUC, will be historic for the Cambodian Labour Movement. He said the establishment of BWTUC will join the international efforts to strengthen the Cambodian Labor Movement, and that this is the truly solitary of action.

“We have to remember that this was not an easy process as there were a lot of headaches, misconceptions, distrust, and quarrel,” he said. “This is not simply an alliance or a show of unity but a process of discussions, consultations and training for the leaders to make a conscious decision and agree to form a new organization to improve the lives of Cambodian construction workers.”

Princisco said that by uniting, Cambodian unions will expand their abilities to gain power, organize more construction workers, and focus their energy in organizing the largely unorganized construction industry to make a different in the lives of the construction workers. He added that BWTUC can lobby and work with various government officials to create laws that will improve health and safety in construction, including better inspection and monitoring of construction sites and the implementation of the Labor Law.

“As a young organization with individuals and leaders from various backgrounds and perspectives, it is natural to have continued differences,” he said. “Like cement it will take time to dry and be hard, so I urge patience in your differences, a broad mind to think things over collectively in decision-making, and most of all the importance of unity in action once decisions are made.”

According to a joint report released by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and the International Labor Organization (ILO) 2009, Cambodia’s construction and wood workers have been facing many risks and dangers.

The risks that workers face, the joint report stated, include dangers from dust (67 percent of workers), work-related accidents (40 percent), chemical and toxic waste (30 percent), pandemic disease (18 percent), unhygienic workplaces (6 percent), and general lack of workplace safety (72 percent). It was reported that 77 percent of temple construction workers received insurance from their companies.

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