The number of Cambodian labourers legally working abroad dropped 30 per cent, from nearly 17,000 in the first six months of 2012 to about 12,000 for the first half of this year, according to government statistics.
Notably, there were declines in Thailand and South Korea, where the vast majority of legal migrants work, a report from the government news site Agence Kampuchea Presse said.
Thailand’s figures declined by 30 per cent, from 10,583 to 7,420 workers, while the number of Cambodians employed in South Korea dropped by 27 per cent, from 6,187 to 4,503.
The government attributed this to improved working conditions in Cambodia.
“In addition to garment factories, we have got new flows of electronics and automotive manufacturers. Those are demanding many workers and providing higher wages,” Oum Mean, secretary of state of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said.
The real picture of labour migration, however, may be more difficult to quantify.
Malaysia, for instance, saw a dramatic 59 per cent decrease in workers over the given period, according to the stats. But the well-documented abuse of Cambodian maids at the hands of their Malaysian employers was not offered as a potential cause for the drop-off.
Then there is the challenge in assessing movements of illegal or irregular workers. Mean said the number of these migrants working outside Cambodia was difficult to calculate, but said he’d observed a decline, as workers were more aware of risks associated with illegally migrating abroad.
“In Thailand over the past 10 years, they have had windows for irregular migrants to get regular status. In the past couple of years these windows have been open,” said Max Tunon with the International Labour Organization in Bangkok, referring to Thailand’s national verification process, under which Cambodian migrants can be granted valid work permits in Thailand.
“That provides some incentives for migrants to use irregular channels rather than the licensed recruitment agencies.”
In January, Thailand nationalised its minimum wage, granting workers anywhere in the country, as opposed to just in urban areas, a minimum daily pay of $10. The move, Tunon said, provided an incentive for those who didn’t want to migrate lengthy distances for a better wage.