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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Work agencies target new destinations for migrants

Work agencies target new destinations for migrants

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090317_14.jpg

Hong Kong, Middle East seen as emerging spots for Cambodian migrant workers after downturn in traditional overseas employment markets

BLOOMBERG

Workers take a break on a construction site in Hong Kong. Construction and maid employment are among the most common for migrant workers in the territory.

Working overseas

  • 4,000 new workers head overseas from Cambodia each year
  • 30,000 Cambodians worked overseas at the end of 2008.
  • 13,324 Cambodians working in Malaysia at the end of last year, the most popular destination
  • 5,949 Cambodians working in South Korea

AS the demand for migrant workers drops off in traditional markets as a result of the global economic downturn, Hong Kong and the Middle East are being earmarked as future destinations for Cambodian workers, according to labour officials.

An Bun Hak, president of the Cambodian Recruitment Agency (CRA), said that employment opportunities in South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia - the traditional destinations for Cambodian workers - had dried up and that the growing economic links between Cambodia and Gulf countries could help forge a fruitful worker-exchange program.

He is in the process of asking for support from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training  to seek out new overseas marketplaces, he said, while urging the National Assembly to sign off on a memorandum of understanding already signed with Kuwait.

"I think we can send between 2,000 and 3,000 local labourers to these countries each year," he said, adding that migrant workers could expect net salaries of around $500 per month and good working conditions. "I think we can send our workers to Hong Kong and Kuwait in the third quarter of 2009 if both of these governments take action to curb unemployment."

Sok Chanpheakdey, president of Philimore Cambodia Co Ltd, an agency recruiting locals to work in Malaysia and Thailand, said that the company was currently sending Cambodians to work as housekeepers in Malaysia, but that factory and construction workers were not needed due to the severe local impact of the global economic crisis.

"I still recruit our labour to work as housekeepers in Malaysia, which is needed," he said, adding that Philimore had ceased sending Cambodian workers to Thailand, citing the poor conditions and low pay.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said that although he supported the idea in principle, the plan to export labour to the Middle East and Hong Kong lacked detail on conditions there. "We cannot send our workers without knowing anything about recruitment offices in that country," he said. "It is a big risk. If Cambodia and foreign countries are already in communication, they have to request proposals for new labour arrangements so both governments can check them."

He said that South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand are still the biggest overseas markets for Cambodian labour, but that the ministry was making attempts to diversify. In addition to the memorandum signed with Kuwait, Oum Mean said the ministry was also preparing to sign agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and had contacted officials in Hong Kong and Singapore about exporting labour.

An Bun Hak said that Cambodia sends around 4,000 new labourers to work abroad annually, and that at the end of 2008, there were 30,000 Cambodians working abroad including 13,324 workers in Malaysia, 5,949 workers in South Korea and 8,231 workers in Thailand. Salaries ranged from around US$180 per month in Malaysia and Thailand to $800 in South Korea.

"Our country earns around $20 million per year from migrant workers," he said. "Overseas jobs directly contribute to economic growth, decrease unemployment, and raise local living standards." 

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