Tuesday, 22 March 2011 15:03Cheang Sokha and David Boyle
Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday called for a crackdown on labour trafficking to Thailand, amid a new round of concerns over training centres for Cambodians seeking work abroad.
Speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for construction on National Road 57B in Battambang province, Hun Sen urged Cambodians to work in the Kingdom rather than migrate to Thailand.
He said many people cross the border for jobs to harvest rice, sugar or corn, but there were equally valuable work opportunities at home.
“We’ve had a lack of labourers recently, so I would like to appeal to our people that there are many job opportunities in Cambodia,” he said.
“The wage is not different [in Thailand, and] we are not the employers, we are labourers in the agriculture sector, the same as in Cambodia.”
Hun Sen said people who chose to work in Cambodia could avoid abuse and mistreatment from Thai employers and would not risk arrest when crossing the border illegally.
Hun Sen also ordered a crackdown on labour traffickers who smuggle Cambodians to work illegally in Thailand.
Soum Chankea, a coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc based in Banteay Meanchey province, said locals travel to Thailand seeking day labour, seasonal work and long-term employment because of the opportunities next door in contrast to low levels of local employment.
“It’s a culture of the local Cambodians to work in Thailand – we cannot stop them,” Soum Chankea said. “Despite our border dispute, villagers continue to enter Thailand without concern for their safety.”
Soum Chankea said labourers on local farms could earn more than 10,000 riels per day (US$2.48) and would expect a similar price in Thailand.
Cambodians, however, could avoid being shamed by their neighbours for being labourers if they worked in Thailand, he said, adding that some villagers take their entire families across the border after the rice harvest in order to supplement their income.
Nilim Baruah, chief technical advisor at the International Labour Organisation, said wage differences between the two countries provided a “push factor” for Cambodians.
Nearly 125,000 Cambodians were legally registered to work in Thailand as of last year, in addition to untold thousands more undocumented migrants.
Dy Phen, director of the Cambodia-Thailand Border Relations Office in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town, has told The Post previously that Cambodian authorities received between 150 and 200 workers daily from Thai authorities after they had been caught crossing illegally.
Dy Phen said at the time that authorities routinely informed local villagers about the dangers of crossing the border illegally, including the risk of being shot by Thai border officials.
Winai Wittayanugool, vice governor of Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, which borders Banteay Meanchey province, said earlier this month that more than 10,000 Cambodians cross into the Thai side daily to do business and find work at the Rung Cleur market.
Hun Sen’s comments on migrant labour come amid a growing controversy surrounding a training centre in Phnom Penh accused of illegally detaining trainees headed to Malaysia to work as maids.
The International Labour Organisation on Sunday issued a statement condemning the detention of female trainees at the T&P Co Ltd training centre.
“There is a pressing need for legislation in Cambodia for better regulation of recruitment agencies,” the statement said.
One woman died at the firm this month, while another broke both her legs while trying to escape by jumping from T&P.
Maeve Galvin, a communications officer at the ILO, said the government was aware of the issue and open to assistance.
“They know themselves that they need to get a grip on this and they’re quite open and willing to hear our advice,” Galvin said.
Matthieu Pellerin, a consultant for the rights group Licadho, said, however, the government was too slow to act on the issue.
“I think words do very little. I think what matters is action and up to now what we’ve seen is the Ministry of Labour [is] very reluctant to overview the actions of these companies, they’ve very much closed their eyes to these centres,” Pellerin said.
Baruah from the ILO said proper oversight could ensure work abroad was safe and profitable.
“In general and in the short to medium term, however, because of proximity and wage differentials, Cambodians can benefit from job opportunities in Thailand provided these are safe, legal and do not increase debt (due to high recruitment costs),” he said.