Low-wage countries like Malaysia and Thailand have seen the sharpest declines with slight increases recorded for Japan and South Korea
Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
People cross the Cambodian-Thai border at Poipet. Cambodian migrant labour into Thailand is being hit hard by the economic crisis.
THE worsening economic crisis is taking a toll on Cambodian migrant labour, with the number of workers heading to Malaysia and Thailand down about 10 percent in 2008, according to a Labour Ministry official.
Falling migrant labour could hit Cambodia's remittance earnings, estimated at about US$300 million per year, according to Ministry of Labour statistics.
"I still support our people working abroad because it can reduce poverty and improve [workers'] livelihoods as well," said Nhem Kim Houy, bureau director at the Ministry of Labour.
Nhem Kim Houy said the ministry allows some 17 companies to export migrant workers, and that the ministry recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Kuwait and Qatar that will see additional workers go to those countries next year.
Slight increases were recorded this year for Cambodian migrant workers travelling to Korea and Japan, even though both countries have been hit hard by the economic crisis, the official said, crediting the rise to government-sponsored stimulus programs that boosted demand for low-cost labour.
The average wage for Cambodian agricultural workers in South Korea is $900 per month, while factory workers in Japan earn up to $600 monthly, Nhem Kim Houy said. Workers in Malaysia and Thailand earn just $150 per month.
The countries where our workers get low salaries are seeing a decline.
Some 13,324 Cambodians entered the migrant labour force in Malaysia from 1998 through November this year, Seng Sakada, director of the ministry's Labour Department, told a press conference on immigration for work and human trafficking at the Ministry of Women's Affairs last week.
Seng Sakada said 2,654 workers went to Malaysia in 2008, down from 3,219 last year.
Some 4,000 workers took jobs in Thailand this year, down more than 1,600 from last year.
However, legal workers in South Korea rose from 95 in 2007 to 2,400 this year, with an additional 3,447 workers preparing for positions there, Seng Sakada said. Only three Cambodian workers were employed in Japan last year, Seng Sakada said, adding that the number this year was 39, with 21 additional workers preparing to accept positions.
"The countries where our workers get low salaries are seeing a decline in workers, while countries that offer better wages have been getting more workers," Seng Sakada told the press conference. Sok Chanpheakdey, director of Philimore Cambodia, a government-approved migrant worker agent, said the changing numbers reflect a shift towards better-paid positions.
"My company doesn't want to send Cambodian workers to Thailand anymore because they receive low salaries for long hours. Many of our workers are also afraid of the recent political chaos and don't want to work there," he said.