Private companies will be prohibited from recruiting Cambodian labour for work in South Korea from January 1, in a bid to prevent any potential human trafficking and exploitation that might discourage others from seeking work there.
Hou Vudthy, deputy general director at the Ministry of Labour, said South Korea paid some of the highest migrant labour wages in the region, and that – after a spate of recent trafficking and abuse cases involving migrant workers in Malaysia and Thailand – the government wants to ensure the country remains a safe option for Cambodian workers.
“The reason why we are just focusing on only the South Korean working opportunities is because we think South Korea’s working conditions and jobs market are very good for our Cambodian workers,” he said. Hou Vudthy added that salaries for workers in South Korea were also “very high” compared with other overseas destinations favoured by Cambodians.
“We would like to encourage more people to go,” he said.
Going forward, the ministry itself will work with selected private companies to place Cambodian migrants in jobs in South Korea, he said, but the ministry will be the only agency authorised to recruit workers.
“We will do our own workers’ recruitments and after that we will be working with our local or private company partners,” he said.
The move came following a spate of cases involving the exploitation, abuse or trafficking of Cambodian migrant workers in other countries in the region, Hou Vudthy said.
“So far, we have observed that there were many problems ... relating to the recruitment of our Cambodian people for work overseas,” he said.
“To prevent these things from happening again in the future, the Government of Cambodia will not authorise the private companies to select our Cambodian workers for work in South Korea anymore.”
He said the ministry hoped the new regulation would make it easier for officials to monitor and protect migrant workers once they are abroad. “We expect that if we can do it like this, we will then be able to better control our workers’ safety and security, as well as their incomes,” he said.
Since 2006, about 7,000 Cambodian workers have been sent to South Korea, mostly to work in the garment or agriculture industries, where they can earn a basic monthly salary of between US$800 and $1,000 per month. By comparison, similar jobs in Thailand or Malaysia pay around $150 to $200 per month, Hou Vudthy said.
The ministry plans to send about 1,000 new workers to South Korea next year, he said, adding that the country represented a good opportunity for Cambodian workers to “make money to support their families”.
An Bunhak, chairman of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said strict ministry regulation of recruitment processes could “help protect the worker”.
He noted, however, that South Korea had long imposed strict regulations worldwide, and said that none of the companies in the ACRA were currently involved in recruiting workers for the country.
Huh Jungae, a counsellor at the South Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh, could not be reached for comment.