Seven Saudi Arabian officials arrived in Phnom Penh yesterday looking to recruit Cambodians—as many as 10,000 a month—to work as unskilled laborers in their oil-rich nation, Labor Ministry officials said yesterday.
“They come here to get the people to work as drivers, construction workers and maids in Saudi Arabia,” Labor Ministry Secretary of State Othsman Hassan said.
According to Mr Hassan, the signing of a diplomatic agreement, which could take thousands of Cambodians to Saudi Arabia, will be contingent upon the Saudi delegation’s approval of a local medical facility where potential workers can be examined before leaving, which would cut out the pricey process of sending Cambodians to Thailand for check-ups.
“Cambodia welcomes the heightened relations with Saudi Arabia,” said Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong, adding he hoped the establishment of a Saudi Embassy in Phnom Penh might be on the horizon.
Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Program, said that if the deal is made, more will have to be done to aid Cambodians working abroad.
“If a more continuous trade in laborers begins between Cambodia and Saudi Arabia, the government will have to think of new ways to service the small number of workers in non-neighboring countries,” he said.
In order to facilitate large-scale worker migration, Mr Poutiainen said, the government will need to effectively regulate labor recruiters and provide pre-migration training to teach language skills and educate Cambodian workers about the culture of their host nation.
“Workers must be able to assess the risk,” Mr Poutiainen said.
In the past, that risk has been apparently high: The Ministry of Labor ordered labor-recruitment firm ACCEP-Group to stop sending workers to Saudi Arabia in 2005 as reports of abuse surfaced.
At that time, only 34 Cambodians were among the approximately 8.8 million foreign workers Human Rights Watch then estimated to be laboring under the constraints of the Kefala sponsorship system.
Under Kefala, foreign employees must give their visas and passports to their employer, making it effectively impossible for laborers to leave their designated work area.
Saudi and Indonesian officials have feuded recently over the cost of hiring laborers from the country.