At least 36 people were killed and 23 injured after a guesthouse under construction in Cambodia collapsed, trapping workers and their families beneath the rubble, officials said on Sunday.
The seven-storey concrete building collapsed on Friday in the coastal town of Kep, about 160 kilometres (100 miles) southwest of the capital Phnom Penh, the latest collapse to hit the country’s booming construction industry.
Sou Chhlonh, vice president of Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), who is in Kep, told Al Jazeera that a combination of lax enforcement of the law, corruption, and workers living on site instead of in separate accommodation contributed to the high number of deaths.
According to the BTWUC’s survey of the site, 59 people were living there including children.
“Six to seven children who stayed in the building died,” Chhlonh said. “A pregnant woman died, and a baby of maybe between three and seven months died with the mother.”
There are an estimated 200,000 construction workers in Cambodia, most of them unskilled, reliant on day wages and without union protection, according to the International Labour Organization.
Worker advocates point to low standards at construction sites that increase the risk of accidents.
Labourers can often be seen shirtless, working with little protective gear, and sleeping inside partially-completed buildings.
The BWTUC’s Chhlonh said that the building had received approval for five floors, but seven were built instead.
“That’s why the quality of the building is not good,” he said. “The law [permit] says five floors only, why did they allow two more? It doesn’t make sense.”
Kep Governor Ken Satha said that the owners of the building, a Cambodian couple, had been detained for questioning as Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the government response and said that no officials in Kep province would be fired.
“Building collapses don’t only happen in Cambodia … they happen elsewhere … including in the United States,” Hun Sen said in a news briefing.
Worker Ei Kosal told AFP on Saturday that he, his wife and two other women were having a meal on site when the structure collapsed.
Their two companions were crushed and immediately killed.
“I did not expect to survive… it’s like I have just been reborn,” Kosal said while recuperating in hospital.
In June, nearly 30 people died after the collapse of a building under construction in Sihanoukville, a beach town being transformed with an influx of Chinese money.
After that disaster, the government had pushed for improved regulation of the construction sector, but Chhlonh said the implementation of the law was lax.
Last month, at least three workers died and more than a dozen others were seriously injured after an under-construction dining hall at a temple collapsed in the tourist town of Siem Reap.
With reporting by Leonie Kijewski in Cambodia