Cambodians falling prey to perils of migrant labour

KAMPONG CHAM, CAMBODIA : The future remains uncertain for many Cambodian workers seeking jobs in Thailand. Most feel the process of gaining employment in the country is akin to playing the lottery, with exploitation in the job placement industry rife, and legal protection scarce.

Like many other Cambodians seeking work in Thailand, Ray Si Len, Dea Bun He and San Suk Cam have been waiting to hear from a job placement company for nearly six months.

They have already paid the firm for passport arrangement fees and other expenses.

The three men had to borrow heavily from relatives to pay the firm, which had promised to send them to work at well-paying factories in Thailand within three months.

The firm has yet to respond to them and they now fear they might lose their money and be left in debt.

Ray Si Len, 28, from Kampong Siem district in Cambodia's Kampong Cham province, called on the placement firm to return the money if it could not honour its promises.

He said he once worked as an illegal migrant worker in Thailand before returning home.

Wanting to be protected under Thai law, he applied for a job under the memorandum of understanding (MoU) on labour employment between Thailand and Cambodia. The job placement company was supposed to make all the arrangements, but he's still waiting to hear back from them.

Del Line Hon, 34, said her husband and her two sisters had applied for jobs in Thailand. They had each paid US$150 (4,600 baht) to a job placement firm for passport arrangements. The firm had promised to give them factory jobs.

They hoped for a better life. Now, they too have had no reply from the firm several months after paying the fee, Mrs Del said.

She said she knew of 30 to 40 other Cambodians who had been persuaded to approach job placement firms for work in Thailand after hearing advertisements on the radio.

The workers showed receipts as evidence of their payments to the firms. The rates for passport arrangements varied _ $135, $150, $250 and $280.

The workers said they were told if they paid $150 for passport fees, it would take between 45 and 90 days to receive news about their employment, while those who paid $200-300 would be contacted within one week.

Some workers complained they had been waiting for a half year despite handing over the money.

Better welfare benefits than in their home country and the 300 baht minimum daily wage have attracted many Cambodians to seek work in Thailand. In Cambodia, they would earn only 100 baht a day for equivalent labour.

Conditions are not always good. Rim Supa Manee said she was forced to flee a construction site in Songkhla province following a brawl between Cambodian and Thai workers at the site.

Several Cambodian workers were disappointed with working conditions in Thailand. Most said they had not been given any details about the type of work they would be doing, the names of their employers, or welfare benefits.

Mr Saroeun of the Phnom Srey Organisation for Development, an NGO working for worker rights protection, said the Thai labour market was especially popular among villagers from the three Cambodian provinces of Kampong Cham, Prey Veng and Battambang.

On average, he said, 10 villagers contacted his organisation each day about wages, welfare benefits and details of Thai employers who would hire them. Many complained about job placement firms' failure to find them work within three months as promised.

Another major problem was that employment contracts were often amended once workers arrived in Thailand, he said. The new contracts were usually unfavourable to the Cambodian workers, and their wages and welfare benefits were cut considerably.

Ly Vichuta, of Legal Support for Children and Women in Cambodia, said migrant workers would continue to enter the country illegally so long as workers hired under the Thai-Cambodian MoU were forced to pay high service fees.

She urged Thailand and Cambodia to review the MoU on labour employment in a bid to protect migrant workers and ease their financial burden.

Ouk Ravuth, chief of the Cambodian Workers Control Office and member of the Labour Ministry's Labour Migration Taskforce, said about 10,000 Cambodian workers were employed in Thailand each year under the MoU.

He said registered Cambodian job placement firms had to seek permission from the Labour Ministry to send Cambodian workers to Thailand, while the Cambodian embassy in Thailand would examine employment contracts and wage conditions.

Ouk Ravuth declined to give details about the rates of service fees charged by job placement firms. The rates were normally decided by job placement firms and those seeking work, he said.

About the author

Writer: Penchan Charoensuthipan
Position: Reporter