Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on Cambodians working overseas for low wages to return home and fill labour force voids as the country’s labour conditions continue to improve.
Speaking to thousands of garment workers on Saturday at a Special Economic Zone in Preah Sihanouk province, Mr Hun Sen said workers’ incomes were increasing in the Kingdom, but some companies and enterprises still faced labour shortages.
“For this lacking of labour force, I want to recommend to all companies and enterprises that there is a way to attract workers to work – give them higher wages and better accommodation,” he said.
A total of about 1.2 million workers are working overseas and each year they send remittances to support their families totalling about $2 billion per year.
Mr Hun Sen said many Cambodians find work in Thailand on sugarcane or rubber plantations, but their wages were only just a little bit higher than in Cambodia.
The premier said that migrant workers earning salaries similar to wages in the Kingdom should return home to buttress a lacking labour force.
In 2017, the minimum wage for garment workers was $153 per month, and it is set to increase to $170 in 2018.
Factory workers in Bangladesh get $67 per month, while those in Myanmar get $79, in Indonesia $99 to $246, in Laos $110, in Vietnam $113 and $250 in Thailand.
In January, a senior government official said during a public forum that the government’s social security fund for workers would entice Cambodians working abroad to return to the Kingdom.
“Now the government has a policy to provide a social security fund to local workers, and I think it could be a mechanism to attract overseas workers to come back to work in the country,” said Vongsey Visoth, secretary of state at the Economy and Finance Ministry. “Besides their monthly salary, they will get more benefits when they retire.”
Dy Thehoya, a programme officer at labour rights group CENTRAL, agreed with the government in encouraging people to find jobs in the country, but said wages overseas were too high to compete with.
“For me, I support Prime Minister Hun Sen who does not want our people to migrate to work in another country because they risk being cheated,” he said. “But if we are talking about wages, the incomes just aren’t comparable.”
Mr Thehoya noted that a worker in Thailand can earn between $300 and $500 per month and also have social protections and higher annual bonuses than in Cambodia.
“But I work to protect the rights of migrant workers and also encourage them to find local work first because finding work abroad can lead to more expenses and possible instances of being cheated by traffickers,” he said.
Labour Minister Ith Samheng said last year that the government sends thousands of Cambodians every month to work legally in many countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Singapore.
“Each month we send about 8,000 to 10,000 Cambodian workers abroad with legal documents through legal channels with the Labour Ministry and private companies,” he said.
According to the ministry, about 100 private companies have licences to recruit Cambodians to work overseas.
But almost 1,000 distressed Cambodian workers were repatriated from overseas last year, marking a significant increase on 2016, according to a Foreign Affairs Ministry report released in January.
The report said the ministry, embassies and consular services last year helped repatriate 986 people from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, China and Japan. In 2016, a total of 816 Cambodian workers were sent home.
Of the 986 repatriated in 2017, 288 came from Thailand, 171 from Vietnam, 49 from Laos, three from Myanmar, 382 from Malaysia, 23 from Indonesia, five from Singapore, 53 from China and 12 from Japan.