Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia’s low rate of unemployment doesn’t tell whole story, report finds



Cambodia’s low rate of unemployment doesn’t tell whole story, report finds

Workers stitch clothes at a garment factory in a special economic zone near Sihanoukville last June.
Workers stitch clothes at a garment factory in a special economic zone near Sihanoukville last June. Sahiba Chawdhary

Cambodia’s low rate of unemployment doesn’t tell whole story, report finds

Cambodia continues to boast a remarkably low unemployment rate of 0.2 percent, according to a new global employment report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) – but analysts warn the number doesn’t tell the entire story.

According to the report, released yesterday, Southeast Asian countries are continuing to create jobs – but they often remain of poor quality. That means many in Cambodia and other countries, while technically employed, are still struggling to make ends meet, said Sara Elder, head economist at the ILO’s Asia and Pacific office.

“A lot of people in Cambodia are doing a few hours of work during the week, such as selling something on the street, but in the meantime they’re looking for another job, another source of income,” Elder said. “So in a sense they’re employed and unemployed at the same time.”

How economists calculate unemployment has long plagued researchers in developing countries, where many say the figure is all but meaningless.

According to the report, Cambodia’s unemployment rate is below the 3.4 percent for Southeast Asia as a whole.

However, 51 percent of jobs in Cambodia are “vulnerable” jobs, slightly higher than the Southeast Asian average of 46 percent. People in vulnerable jobs are not salaried – instead, they may work as farmers or for their family. Many are what economists are now calling “underemployed”.

Miguel Chanco, lead analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said he typically does not rely on unemployment rates in Cambodia.

“A significant proportion of the labour force continues to rely heavily in agriculture, which remains at the mercy of the weather,” Chanco said, adding that workers are also subject to “the narrowness of . . . [the] manufacturing sector”.

William Conklin, of the labour advocacy group Solidarity Center, said wages are also an important indicator of economic health.

“Many people here have more than one job because the wages are too low,” Conklin said, adding that it is common to see women working as store vendors during the day and at hostess bars or KTVs at night.

As the garment industry has stagnated, Elder said it is worrisome to see growth in high-paying jobs plateauing since the early 2000s.

“[Garment factory jobs] weren’t perfect jobs, but they were jobs,” Elder said. “As that levels off, we need to think about diversification and whether or not the economy is going to create enough jobs in the service sector. That’s where the real struggle comes in.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants