Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng has requested that the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh consider finding ways to provide more opportunities for Cambodians to obtain visas to work in Australia, especially in the construction, service and industry sectors.
Sam Heng said this will enable the workers to earn relatively high incomes and support their families while gaining new skills and experiences abroad.
He made the call during his meeting with Australian ambassador Pablo Kang at the ministry headquarters on September 27 to discuss Cambodia’s interest in the recently announced Australian agricultural visa programme.
Kang said his government plans to issue agriculture visas to Australia’s partner countries and that ASEAN member states are considered the main targets for the initiative.
Sam Heng expressed his enthusiasm for the visa plan and his certainty that many Cambodians would be interested in pursuing the offer.
“For [agricultural visas] if they are looking for workers who can do the harvesting, farming, fishing and hard work involved in other resource industries, we expect that Cambodian workers would be able to do very well for their Australian employers,” he said.
Sam Heng also requested that Kang consider asking his government to provide additional opportunities for Cambodian workers with the establishment of a regular programme along the lines of what Cambodia has with South Korea.
He said Cambodia has prepared a clear set of standards, policies and mechanisms within an effective management system that would ensure that only the best and most qualified Cambodians would go to Australia and that their rights and interests would be protected when they did so with safeguards in place to prevent labour exploitation and human trafficking.
Ministry undersecretary of state Ngoy Rith said Australia had not yet agreed to granting visas to any ASEAN country thus far, but it appeared that they were planning to do so and this meeting was just a preliminary one to open the topic for discussion and begin the process.
“The minister told the ambassador that Cambodia is pleased with the new programme because it will provide an opportunity for Cambodians to go and work in Australia.
“We hope that the Australian side will consider [including Cambodia] after the embassy and the labour department discuss the plans, procedures and mechanisms in more detail. The Australian side is as concerned as we are about preventing any human trafficking from taking place via recruitment agencies,” said Rith.
The agricultural visa programme was announced on August 23, with the stated goal of providing Australia with the manpower it needs by recruiting workers from abroad for the agriculture, fishing and resource industries.
The project is similar to its Pacific Labour Scheme, which allows foreign workers in certain professions or industries to work in Australia for a period of one to three years under the auspices of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.