Cambodian workers that went to work abroad in 2010 earned a total of $360 million, of which about $180 million was sent home as remittances, the government said yesterday.
A total of 126,304 Cambodians officially worked overseas in 2010, while only 10,654 Cambodians had gone to work overseas in the first half of 2011, according to data released by the Council of Minister, which passed a sub-decree yesterday intended to increase the number of migrant laborers while ensuring their safety overseas.
It was unclear yesterday as to why the number of migrant workers had dropped so much this year. Though experts say official numbers represent only a fraction of those who actually work abroad through irregular channels.
Originally drafted by the Ministry of Labor with the aim of finding labor markets, and job opportunities while ensuring the safety of Cambodian workers the sub-decree consists of 16 chapters and 44 articles stipulating the rights of Cambodians abroad as well as guidelines for private agencies to recruit and send workers to work in foreign countries.
Few concerned parties have seen a copy of the sub-decree.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center, said that he had read a single draft of the sub-decree in March but had been unable to obtain any updated document.
“The sub-decree was really hidden. We as a labor group, and other NGOs working in the sector, did not see it. It was not open to public consultation,” he said.
According to Mr Tola, the March draft was riddled with flaws.
“It did not have strong protection, it did not have effective detection,” he said. Mr Tola pointed to worker training centers run by private recruitment agencies that have been rife with illegalities.
“There’s illegal detention, not enough food, terrible living conditions inside the centers. No doctors, no nurses. Two people died in 2011 in pre-departure training centers in Cambodia. But the sub-decree was not written to address this issue,” he said.
According to the Council of Minister’s statement, of those workers sent abroad last year, 40,444 had returned home “bringing with them experience, technical and foreign languages skills.”
In reality, however, the figures presented by the government of those working overseas likely represents just a fraction of the Cambodians actually working abroad. A report by the Cambodian Development Resource Institute released in March showed that less than 5 percent of the country’s migrant labor went through legal channels.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who has been heavily involved in migrant labor issues, said that he too had not yet seen a copy of the sub-decree but noted that without involvement from receiving countries, the legislation might not prove adequate. He pointed to Malaysia, which turned to Cambodian maids after bilateral talks with Indonesia concerning maid protections broke down.
“Some of the parliamentarians in the region are working to push for some regulations at the Asean level,” he said.
Oum Mean and Othsman Hassan, secretaries of state at the Ministry of Labor declined to comment on the sub-decree.