Many workers who lose their jobs in garment, construction and other sectors due to the global financial crisis will face extended unemployment or find only lower-paying jobs unless Cambodia can find more ways to create jobs and train workers to do them, participants said Thursday at a forum on labor and the economy.
Many unemployed workers will be forced to return to their home villages to work in farms, or go to work in massage parlors, restaurants and car washes, said Kang Chandararot, executive director of Cambodia Institute of Development Study. Some workers will turn to selling coconuts, though some women will become sex workers, he said at the forum organized by the International Labor Organization.
“We’ll see the severest impacts on the front lines: construction and garments. We have some back up but it’s not free of impact,” Kang Chandararot said.
In 2009, 217,000 households or more than 1 million people will be affected by decreasing income or unemployment because of the crisis, he said, with garment sector and construction workers being hardest hit because they rely on foreign investment.
About 27,000 garment jobs, with an average pay of $80 a month, disappeared in 2008 and another 19,000, will go away in 2009, Kang Chandararot predicted. More than 36,000 construction jobs, with an average pay of $100, were lost in 2008 and another 25,600 workers will be shed in 2009, he said.
Though tourism has slowed down, it is still growing and it created 16,614 jobs in 2008 and will create another 12,698 jobs, paying about $80 a month, in 2009, he said.
Agriculture absorbed 650,000 people into the workforce in 2008 and will absorb another 203,200 this year, he said. While some of these jobs will pay $50 per month, many will turn to mere subsistence farming.
Kang Chandararot recommended that the government pass a stimulus package to increase spending on things like infrastructure to create better-paying jobs. He also recommended the ILO set up a central job information system to help the unemployed find jobs.
Several people at the forum noted the need for ways for workers to find jobs.
Labor Ministry Undersecretary of State Sath Samoth said that as Cambodians lose jobs in the garment sector they must have other options.
“We don’t want them to return home empty-handed without any skills,” he said. “The government does it’s best and the government is limited especially in its ability to provide financial support,” he said.
Douglas Broderick, UN resident coordinator, said tuition waivers and food and fuel subsidies could help people affected by crisis.
But vocational training must be coordinated with the creation of new sectors like light manufacturing which could include jobs assembling electronic components or mechanical parts, he said.
“It needs to be a coordinated effort,” Broderick said.
Sukti Dasgupta, a senior specialist on employment and labor market policies for the ILO, said that women, young and older workers, and migrant workers will be hit the hardest by the current economic climate, but it’s unclear just how severely.
“We still haven’t seen the full impact of the crisis. It’s a moving target,” she said.