Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha shakes hand with Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen

Talk but no action? Cambodian workers in Thailand see a lot of room for improvement

Thai-Cambodian discussions at the recent ASEAN summit put labour issues on the table. Despite the pleasant chat, migrant workers in Thailand have yet to see what, if any, measures the authorities will adopt to help address their problems.

A Cambodian-Thai meeting at the ASEAN summit event in Phnom Penh on 10 November 2022. (Source:Facebook/ Samdech Hun Sen, Cambodian Prime Minister)

In a bilateral meeting on the sideline of the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits on 10 November 2022, Hun Sen expressed gratitude to the Thai government for allowing Cambodian workers to enter Thailand and called for further cooperation in the matter.

According to a press release from the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hun Sen and Prime Minister, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha met to affirm their existing good relationship and continued cooperation in all fields including the entry of Cambodian migrant workers to Thailand.

While the meeting ended on a positive note, Cambodian workers here feel that their government and embassy should do more to protect and help them. 

Te (full name withheld), 28, a Cambodian worker in Thailand, believes that the meeting was a polite diplomatic exchange with no real substance.  He also feels that Thailand is not likely to change its current practices in managing foreign workers.

What Te really wants to see are more jobs for people in Cambodia.

"If the government creates more jobs and provides decent wages for the people, it will reduce migration … and also help the country's economy," he added.

Loeng Sophon, a Thailand-based project officer for the Cambodian labour rights group Central, notes the many challenges Cambodian workers face here: finding a place to stay; getting a job during the COVID-19 crisis; and filing documents to get visas and work permits.

He thinks it is good that the Cambodian and Thai governments have expressed their joint concern for Cambodian workers. He also notes that the Thai government has done things to make it easier for some Cambodian workers, such as allowing them to renew their visas in Thailand without having to return to Cambodia.

However, he wants the Cambodian government and relevant agencies, especially its embassy staff, to closely monitor the problems that occur among Cambodian workers.

People before politics

Te feels that relevant Cambodian organisations, like the Ministry of Labor and the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand, should be actively involved in assisting workers, listening to their problems and helping them to come up with solutions.

He notes that Vietnamese workers in Cambodia receive support from both their own and the Cambodian governments.  He thinks that Cambodian workers in Thailand do not get much help; when they run into problems, they do not know where to turn.

Te has been working in Thailand for more than 12 years.  Whenever he has a problem, he faces it on his own, without help from government officials.

According to Te, his government not only provides little help  but actually makes problems for workers known to support the now-disbanded opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - a discriminatory practice he wants to see ended.

He wishes that relevant authorities would visit Cambodian labourers in Thailand to help them address their problems on the ground.

Another worker, Ruay Sin, expressed happiness that Hun Sen asked for continued close cooperation with Thailand to make things easier for Cambodian workers here.

She hopes it will end the exploitation of Cambodian workers and help them to live better lives.

"Cooperation to make things easier for Cambodian workers here is important - there are so many of them,” says Rin.

In response to a Prachatai English query, Heng Sour, a Labour Ministry spokesperson, said that the ministry would continue to collaborate with the Thai Ministry of Labour to address the needs of Cambodian workers in Thailand.

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