With cross-border flows of migrant workers rapidly increasing since the founding of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, industry insiders claim that this change has had both positive and negative effects on the Kingdom by reducing the levels of unemployment while highlighting the need for greater protections of worker rights.
At a panel hosted by the Global Alumni Convention in Phnom Penh over the weekend, experts in the labour industry gathered to discuss the AEC and the recent signing of the Asean Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, an agreement inked by the 10-nation bloc last week.
The agreement aims to ensure that greater safeguards are adopted by member states to protect foreign labourers.
Hong Choeun, director general of the National Employment Agency, said that he was supportive of the new AEC agreement but added that this was just the first step in stopping the large amount of abuses many migrant workers face.
“The agreement is a springboard to protect migrant labourers,” he said. “There is much still to be done.”Sok Lor, partner at law firm Sok Xing and Hwang, stressed both the importance of creating and the difficulties of enforcing migrant worker rights laws.
“From a legal perspective, it’s complicated. Labour migration has been notorious because workers often face mistreatment,” he said. “Many workers could not keep their own passports, did not have access to local or national social welfare programmes and may not have even had the ability to move.”
“The entire chain of issues requires regulations [to be followed] by all countries,” he said.
Documenting and licencing migrant workers is crucial to ending maltreatment, he added. Still, important as protections of workers across borders might be, he said that in the short-term, it is best for Cambodian workers to remain inside of the Kingdom.
“I think in the long-term, migrant labour is a good thing because it helps to reduce poverty,” he said. “But we are desperate for foreign capital in order to boost our economy. [Investors] often come because of the advantage of low cost labour, so we need our workers to be here.”
Hing Vutha, head of the economics unit at local think tank Cambodia Development Resource Institute, noted that while Cambodian workers often migrated for higher wages, he stressed the fact that many workers are still unable to escape the cycle of poverty.
“The impact of migrant labour from the provinces has been mixed. In many cases, [Cambodian] migrant labourers have more food and better housing than they did in the provinces,” he said. “But often, their children drop out of school. They have a choice, and most choose not to send their daughters to be educated for long.”
The Phnom Penh Post is the media partner of the Global Alumni Convention.