Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Garment Workers Request for Water Mist Fans as Rising Temperatures Affect Health And Productivity

Garment workers leave a factory during lunch break in scorching weather, in Phnom Penh on April 10, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Garment workers leave a factory during lunch break in scorching weather, in Phnom Penh on April 10, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Garment workers in Phnom Penh and Kandal, Takeo and Kampong Chhnang provinces have asked their companies to install water mist fans in the factory amid rising temperatures. The call comes on the heels of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s directive on April 9 to factories and companies to spray water on roofs and set up enough fans to cool down.

The workers have been requesting for water mist fans for years but none have been provided by the companies, which mentioned that it “costs too much”, so they “cannot afford it”, even though a letter seeking solutions was sent by the workers to the ministry and the companies’ clients.

Chhorn Chan, who has been working at Bowker Garment Factory (Cambodia) Co Ltd for 11 years, told CamboJA that it has been very hot the last few years, particularly during the dry season occurring between February and May. For example, the temperature in the factory rose to more than 37 degrees in the middle of March, when it was commonly 34 degrees.

According to the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, this year’s dry season is expected to last till May, with highs of 41 degrees Celsius.

Chan said over 50 percent of around 4,000 workers felt weak due to the heat because only normal fans were used in the factory.

“It weakens [the workers] because the workplace is very hot, so it affects our health. Just think, we work eight hours a day, and add another two hours. So, it’s 10 hours in total. We feel hot from 8am to 5pm.”  “The heat does not reduce. We go into the building at 8am and we are sweating. If we don’t work hard, we won’t see the results, so we have to work hard.”

Owing to this, they asked the labor ministry, company and Adidas, the buyer, to fix water mist fans three to four years ago but there was no update.

“I have been asking them to spray water on the roof or install water mist fans for three to four years now, but the company did not solve it because it costs a lot.” 

“We talked to the ministry and submitted a request [about the water mist fan], and they said the company will solve it, but the solution was to repair the old fan and clean it. [It] was [alright] for a short time but it became the same again,” said Chan, adding that they are worried about how long the extreme heat would last.

A garment factory in Phnom Penh on April 10, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Kandal factory worker representative, Chhorn Channy, 35, said she felt that the temperature this year is higher than last year, adding that factory workers are affected by the heat during working hours.

She has worked at Yi Da Manufacturer Co Ltd for seven years. The company, which employs 4,600 workers, makes jeans for export to the U.S.

“Previously, workers experienced poor health, some fainted while working. The most difficult condition is faced by pregnant women as they are affected by the heat and have to breathe in odors and chemicals.

“Even normal people think that it is difficult for them, imagine how pregnant women feel. Only women who have experienced pregnancy can understand this,” she said, urging the ministry and stakeholders to look into this issue.

She asked them to prod the factory to review the working conditions in the factory and think about the workers’ well-being this summer. The company did not commit previously as they were afraid of “losing money” by buying water mist fans for the workers, Channy said.

Kan Sokvy, a workers’ representative from Can Sports Shoes Co Ltd at Kampong Chhnang province, said he was worried about his health, having suffered from dizziness and headaches as the weather became hotter.

They have water mist fans in hot areas in the building, but they should be placed in all areas, said Sokvy, whose factory produces shoes for Adidas. Some 8,600 employees work there.

“I hope they can provide water fans for all workers, not only in hot places. It is difficult for us, but we have no choice. Even though it’s hot, we have to work to earn an income for the family. We have to endure it.”

Yi Vanntar, 41, who works for HC Global Textile Co Ltd in Takeo, said the factory set up a water system after being asked to inspect the environment in the building which housed more than 1,000 workers.

The company produces apparels and outerwear fabrics which are exported to Europe, said Vanntar, who has worked there for five years.

“We want them to pay more attention to us not only during summer when we request it because our income also decreases when it’s hot as workers can’t do overtime compared to cold season.”

The factory also has water issues in the toilet. “I hope they will find a solution,” he said, adding that the toilet issue is not only linked to water problems during the hot season but throughout the year.

A view inside a factory in Phnom Penh showing garment workers sitting and working under fans amid hot temperatures. (Supplied)

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training advised factories to open windows or add fans for ventilation, increase clean drinking water, spray roofs twice a day, inspect ventilation systems and assign staff to monitor workplace thermometers. 

President of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), Yang Sophorn said factory workers are facing serious challenges which require owners to pay attention to workers’ safety.

She has previously submitted a letter to the ministry and factories which are CATU members to install additional water supply and water mist fans in the factory.

“It’s very important because when a factory wants to produce a specific quantity, they need to provide workers with a safe [workplace] because it is really hot in summer, which can be challenging and inconvenient for them,” Sophorn said.

She added that employees who have a good working environment would be able to do a good job, which will increase their livelihood and productivity.

“So, I urge factory owners, enterprises, the ministry and other stakeholders to address workers’ plight and ensure safe working conditions this summer for factory workers across Cambodia. They face many challenges daily. They are an important resource in helping the economy grow,” Sophorn said.