Pact With Malaysia Opens Way to Good Jobs for Cambodians

Chhum Sovannara’s new job is the best she’s ever had, her family says.

For the past four months, the 22-year-old has earned $130 per month, sewing underwear for a clothing company in Malaysia. She has not had to worry about paying rent, buying food, or even the clothes she wears to work.

Her employer takes care of all of those arrangements.

With so few expenses, she has been able to send money home to her family in Cambodia. Her latest letter contained about $260, nearly six times the monthly salary of a Cam­bodian garment worker.

“She just telephoned me and told me that her life is good,’’ said her father, Chhum Tith.

Chhum Sovannara is one of more than 300 Cambodians work­ing in a dozen different factories in Malaysia through the auspices of Cambodia’s Human Re­source Development Co Ltd.

HRD is one of two agencies authorized by Cambodia’s Mini­s­try of Labor to provide workers to Malaysian employers. The other, Cambo­dian Labor Sup­ply Co, specializes in domestic workers.

So far, authorities say they have received no complaints from workers, who often are easy targets of illegal job brokers and employers who fail to provide the salaries they first promise.

The good news about Malaysia has traveled fast. Chhum Tith said he gets three to four calls a month from Cambodians who want to hear more about opportunities in Malaysia. “In my commune, 20 people have jobs in Malaysia already,’’ he said.

Earlier this year, the Cambodian government reopened a job placement office at the Ministry of Labor aimed at protecting Cambodian workers who seek jobs abroad. The office closed during the 1997 factional fighting that paralyzed much of Cambodia’s economic activity.

Once the office re-opened, officials agreed that tighter regulations were needed to curb illegal trafficking of workers.

So the two countries reached a bilateral agreement late last year spelling out how Cambodian workers will be treated by their Malaysian employers. In brief, the employers pay many of the expenses, including transportation, housing and insurance.

Abdul Aziz Basri, HRD’s chief operating officer, said he believes it’s a good deal for Cambodian workers.

The workers “don’t need to use their salaries for anything,” he said. They do have to meet some criteria before going abroad. Among the requirements, they must be in good health, which they must prove with a doctor’s examination.

They also must agree not to get married or pregnant while working abroad.

The government has already assembled a pool of about 600 would-be workers who meet those criteria, said Dr. Huy Han Song, director of occupational health for the Ministry of Labor.

Another 300 Cambodians have landed jobs as domestic workers through Cambodia Labor Supply Ltd, earning salaries of $120 per month. In Cambodia, similar jobs pay from $35 to $80 per month.

(Additional reporting by Jody McPhillips)




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