Cambodian migrant worker hopefuls have heard murmurs about the poor work conditions in South Korea. However, they remain unfazed – even the recent reports of long hours and abusive employers are doing little to deter their quest to secure better wages abroad.
Over 51,000 Cambodians signed-up for the highly selective Test of Proficiency in Korean this weekend, one of several requirements applicants who want to work in Korea must meet, according to Cambodia’s Labour Ministry. Only the test’s top 4,000 scorers will even be considered for a job as a farm hand or factory worker.
The test takers crammed into 11 exam centres for the promise of seemingly exorbitant wages.
“My friend’s brother makes $1,600 in South Korea working at a farm for eight hours a day,” said Sorith Sok, who by comparison makes $100 a month at the M Canadia Industrial Park.
Sok saved for six months to afford a $100, three-month language class. She never finished high school, but studied every day for the test; if she doesn’t pass, she said she’ll try to save all over again for more lessons.
“I don’t want to go to Thailand or Malaysia,” said Sok, who has never been abroad before. “Employers don’t treat their workers well in those countries, Cambodians have died.”
Last week, Amnesty International lambasted South Korea’s long-praised foreign employment system for the way it exploits migrants.
“I’ve heard of problems with employers not paying salaries regularly or forcing overtime hours,” said Soun Sokheng, 26. “Of course, the rumours scare me, but it doesn’t sound as bad as other places and my family is poor, they need the money.”
Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour addressed the Amnesty report with Korea, according to ministry spokesman Heng Sour, who added that the host country denied the findings, and that many workers continue to want to go there anyway.
Last year, Cambodia sent some 8,800 workers to Korea.