Cambodia is suffering from a shortage of labour across all sectors of the economy, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking at an opening ceremony at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone on Tuesday.
The number of workers at many of Phnom Penh’s construction sites fell significantly following the Khmer New Year, according to some residential developers.
Borey New World’s technical construction manager Tith Pheng said the recent lack of labour was because some provinces celebrated Khmer New Year longer than others – even up to two weeks – and some construction workers put off their return to the capital, waiting until the transportation fees returned to normal prices.
“Cambodia’s low-skill labour market is largely inadequate. Our site’s labour force two weeks after the Khmer New Year declined almost 60 per cent,” he said, adding that he was not sure about the trend in the third or fourth weeks following Khmer New Year, as some construction workers might return with family members, while some others may switch their workplace.
“In the past, people migrated to the city to look for jobs, but when there are many job opportunities in the provinces, they chose not to work in the city anymore because some of them didn’t want to stay far away from their relatives and homeland. Though they earned less, they wanted to stay together with their family. Some of them preferred to migrate abroad as the fees are higher,” he explained.
“At our construction site, we offered skilled labourers between $8 and $12 per day, while unskilled labour got between $3 and $5,” he said. Another reason contributing to the lack of labourers is because the government “planned many infrastructure developments across the country, like bridges and roads, and some other workers from Kampong Cham, Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri decided to find jobs with rubber and cassava plantations”.
Teuk Thla New World’s construction supervisor Chum Kirirum said his company’s eight construction sites required a labour force of 4,779 people; however, the number available before the Khmer New Year declined to 60 per cent of that number, and two weeks after the celebration the number even dropped to 30 per cent.
Two weeks after the celebration, he said, he didn’t expect that returning workers would raise numbers to the normal figure like before the New Year, expecting that only 40 per cent would come back.
Borey Vimean Phnom Penh’s Assistant General Manager Ouch Pisal said there had been 505 workers working in his construction site before the celebration, and only 30-40 per cent of that number after the Khmer New Year.
“Those workers may return to their work here because we always pay their daily wage on time and some of our contractors are highly responsible,” he said, adding that they would wait and see what might happen for another two or three weeks, but confirming that they didn’t have a full workforce this week.
Koh Pich Island’s Elite Site Construction Supervisor Chea Chheangly said his construction site required 1,500 workers; however, before the Khmer New Year, there were only 1,100 workers, which did not meet demands. He added that the number dropped by half two weeks after that.
“Generally, the number of workers won’t go up as there are many construction sites elsewhere around the country; hence, the workers were scattered there as well,” he said.
Sok Sovanndeth, chairman of the Cambodian Construction Workers’ Federation, said the labour force prior to the Khmer New Year was falling, but the number would soon increase to normal. “Some workers who returned to their homeland may bring along with them their relatives, as there is high demand for labour in Phnom Penh,” he said.
These problems have led to a slow-down in construction work on many residential development sites. This is partly due to the fact that most major construction development projects offered low wages, which are not parallel with the increase in the price of goods, said Sok Sovanndeth.
“Cambodian workers can earn only 13,000 riel a day, but if they work in Thailand, they can get at least 30,000-40,000 riel,” he said.
The Ministry of Land Planning, Urbanization and Construction data revealed that there were 38,500 construction workers nationwide involved in that sector daily in 2011.