Cambodia and South Korea have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that permits some Cambodian workers to find employment there under the Korean Employment Permit System (EPS).
For over a decade now, nearly 70,000 Cambodians have found employment in South Korea through the EPS.
The original MoU was co-signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in November 2006.
The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training’s committee in charge of training and sending workers abroad and South Korea’s Human Resource Development Unit are the administering agencies for the MoU.
In a Facebook post on February 2, labour minister Ith Sam Heng confirmed that his ministry and South Korea’s Ministry of Employment and Labour had signed a sixth extension of the MoU, paving the way for thousands of Cambodians to work there for a period of several years.
Since the first MoU was signed, Cambodia has sent 68,294 workers there, including 15,000 women. The workers had mostly been employed in agriculture and construction. Their contracts had a term of four years and 10 months.
“Currently, Cambodian migrant workers working in [South] Korea number 45,462 with 10,183 of them female,” Sam Heng said.
He said that after the Covid-19 situation in South Korea has improved, Cambodia expects to become a priority country for worker recruitment given its relatively low number of Covid-19 cases.
He also pointed out that there are many flights available between the two countries and that the number of illegal Cambodian migrant workers was low and it compared favourably with that of other countries with significant migrant worker populations there.
Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour told The Post on February 2 that because of the Covid-19 crisis, he could not confirm as to how many Cambodian migrant workers will be needed by South Korea. He noted that it also depends on the employers’ needs and decisions because the EPS does not set a quota or an upper limit.
Dy Thehoya, a programme officer at the rights group Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (Central), said the process of sending migrant workers to South Korea had worked well and that it provided better opportunities for many Cambodian migrant workers as compared to other countries.
He said, however, that despite the smooth process the governments of both countries should pay more attention to how these migrant workers are treated.
“The system there isn’t concerned enough with protecting workers’ rights and working conditions, wages and living standards could be improved for migrant workers if both governments paid more attention to protecting them in their workplace and ensuring that they had adequate accommodations provided,” he said.
Thehoya called on the Cambodian government to formally recognise worker’s skills in some areas by issuing certificates to those who qualify and who have worked in South Korea in the past so that they will be considered for better positions with higher pay.