Asbestos campaign progresses in Cambodia despite worsening COVID-19 crisis
Despite a new and devastating wave of COVID-19 spreading across Southeast Asia, progress is being made in APHEDA’s Eliminating Asbestos Diseases campaign in Cambodia.
Asbestos Campaign Background: Cambodia
The Asbestos Not Here Not Anywhere Campaign by Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA is working in SE Asia with trade unions, governments, NGO’s, health expert, UN agencies and employers in our efforts to raise alarm bells on asbestos exposure risks and to urge action to eliminate asbestos related diseases. An estimated 233,000 people die each year globally from asbestos related diseases (ARDs) according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). In many high asbestos use countries in Asia, there is significant underreporting of ARDs as capacity for diagnoses is low or non-existent. With COVID-19 engulfing many countries, the co-vulnerability with those already suffering asbestos related diseases, many not diagnosed, is deeply concerning.
New ILO collaboration with asbestos campaign in Cambodia
In 2021 a new agreement between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MOLVT) will see the National Asbestos Profile updated and work commence on actions to prevent future asbestos related diseases discussed among key Ministries, trade unions and employers. This agreement is part of an existing OSH project in the construction sector supported by the ILO with APHEDA’s participation and support.
Strengthening awareness raising and testing
At the same time the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC) is strengthening its campaign targeting construction workers at high risk of asbestos exposure. This has been done through the development of the first Khmer language asbestos hazard awareness video that will be used during information sessions for construction workers. New flyers for construction workers to take home and distribute within their family and community to encourage use of alternative safer materials has also been developed. These flyers also provide advice to those who currently have asbestos in their homes. The new materials add to information sessions promoting workplace and collective action to reduce exposure. Information sessions have been recently updated and improved through a participatory review of training sessions conducted by a volunteer from the Australian union movement.
These new materials also encourage government, employers and anyone with specific concerns on asbestos in their house or workplace to get materials tested at the new asbestos testing laboratory within the Ministry of Customs. This laboratory was funded in 2019 through the Asbestos. Not here. Not anywhere. campaign with the support of the Australian Government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA). The laboratory consists of a polarised light microscope and other equipment used for testing for asbestos.
The BWTUC also leads a local information network of other concerned trade unions and non- government organisations who will continue to organise community, worker and employer awareness events on the hazards of asbestos exposure.
The impact of COVID-19 on the asbestos awareness campaign
In recent months many countries in Asia have, like parts of Australia, been experiencing a new and deadly wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with the spread of the new Delta strain. In countries like Indonesia this is devastating many communities. To respond, the campaign has planned in some countries to support both a COVID-19 response (e.g. Indonesia) to help workers and unions respond as well as adjust asbestos campaign activities to be flexible in both their delivery method and timing, to take account of the COID-19 crisis. For example, this can mean moving some activities online and having a greater focus on social media.
We are also deeply concerned in regard to potential comorbidities for the hundreds of thousands already suffering from ARD’s, many not aware of their illness, and their increased vulnerability to a severe response to COVID-19. This will also be a focus for our campaign work in 2021.
The Eliminating Asbestos Diseases campaign in Cambodia is supported by the Australian Government through both the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), Australian trade unions, the Solidarity Centre and USAID.
Join the Campaign to Ban Asbestos
We are building a movement of people in Australia to join with unionists and campaigners across South East Asia to support their struggle to ban asbestos and eliminate asbestos-related diseases. We want to secure an asbestos-free future because as long as asbestos is being used anywhere, it remains a risk everywhere.