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Garment workers waiting in line to get foods

Garment workers waiting in line to get food. Photo by International Labour Organisation, taken on 14 July 2015. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Cambodia’s high labor force participation rate, high level of self-employment, and low unemployment rate reflect the country’s dependence on agriculture to support individual households and the wider economy. With the development of industries that can provide higher cash wages and less vulnerability to natural phenomena, more Cambodians are moving into unskilled work in urban areas.

The country’s labor force participation rate—the percentage of employed people older than 14 years—was 83 percent in 2013, with a higher rate of men in the labor force (88.7 percent) than women (77.8 percent). In the same year, the unemployment rate was just 0.3 percent.1

While the agriculture sector represented 54.1 percent of total employment in 2010 according to the International Labour Organization, 85 percent of 2.6 million households indicated they were engaged in agricultural activities in the Census of Agriculture in Cambodia, 2013.2 Though the survey shows that agriculture appears very likely to remain the dynamic force in creating more jobs for Cambodian people, figures for labor in the sector are still controversial.3

The garment and footwear industry appears to be the most dynamic sector in creating new jobs. From 2000 to 2006, the main contributor to job creation was garment manufacture, while construction was the second, with tourism contributing less than both of these sectors.4 In 2013, the garment industry accounted for approximately 8.18 percent of total employment.5

Labor laws

Rights of employees and employers are protected under Cambodia’s laws. The Labor Law 1997 prescribes conditions of labor contracts, contractual relations, employees’ and employers’ rights of association (unions) and assembly (strikes and lockout), institutions (Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MLVT), Labor Advisory Committee, Arbitration Council and courts), and procedures for conflict resolution. The enforcement of this law is detailed by sub-decrees and prakas.

In early 2015, the MLVT started to implement the requirement for work permits for foreign workers6 and outlined procedures for recruitment of foreigners7 as provided in Chapter 10, Section 2 of the Labor Law.

Cambodia has ratified 13 international labor conventions.8 Despite Cambodia’s commitment to labor standards, some issues still concern national and international organizations and advocacy groups. The Decent Work Country Programme 2011–2015 aims to contribute to the government’s Rectangular Strategy for Growth through three priority areas: improving rights at work, promoting an environment for sustainable growth, and improving social protection.9

The government has said it is working toward the establishment of a labor court in Cambodia.10

Child labor and debt bondage – where someone is effectively forced to work to repay a debt – are both illegal in Cambodia, but an investigation by the NGO Licadho in 2016 suggests both practices can be found in brick kilns.11

Health and safety

The safety and health of workers is a concern in every sector. Working and living conditions of workers in the garment and textile industries have long been in the news headlines, and since 2013, has drawn international attention. Workers face poor ventilation and heat, chemical exposure and fumes, while their living conditions may be threatened by malnutrition due to low minimum wages and living standards. For instance, fainting is relatively common.12

The transport of workers in large open-top trucks has also been a safety concern for both garment and construction workers, as highlighted in May 2015 when 19 people were killed and 20 others were injured in a single accident while on their way to work.13

In 2015, according to the National Social Security Fund, 181 workers died as a result of work-related accidents. There were 2,073 reported cases of workers fainting.14

While the Labor Law guarantees a safe working environment, safety standards are few, and without sub-decrees on heath and safety for industries such as construction, enforcement is impossible.15

In November 2016 the government signed off a sub-decree establishing a National Committee for Health and Work Safety. This body, including officials from different ministries, will review information related to health and work safety and give advice to the government.16 


The Minister for Labor established the Arbitration Council in 2003 to resolve labor disputes through the tripartite approach of bringing employer, union and government representatives together. The council received 361 dispute cases in 2014, a 27 percent increase on the previous year and more than ten times what it received in 2003. While the council resolves 73 percent of the cases taken to a hearing, 38 percent are either withdrawn or reconciled between parties before the council issues an award.17

The official minimum wage set by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training for the garment and textile industry in 2013 was US$80 per month.18 The Labor Law sets the guidelines for establishing the minimum wage, however, until recently, reviews and increases were irregular. In 2009 the average monthly earnings across the country was KHR 314,665 (approximately US$77).19 While it is not the largest employment sector, some see the minimum wage for Cambodia’s garment and textile industry as a benchmark for wages in other sectors.20

Following large-scale strikes and publicity for the sector, the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) of the ministry increased the minimum wage for garment sector workers to US$128 as of 1 January 2015.21 The price of electricity for low-income Cambodians was also reduced to KHR 610 per kilowatt to ease pressure on the cost of living for low wage earners.22 

The minimum wage for the garment sector in 2016 rose to US$140 (including a US$5 government subsidy).23 The minimum monthly wage for 2017 has been set at $153.24

In October 2016 the Ministry of Labor said that it was working with International Labor Organization (ILO) officials and other advisers to draft a law setting out a monthly minimum wage for workers in fields outside the garment and textile industry.25

Cambodia’s wages remain significantly below those of China. In early 2016, the Asian Development Bank reported that wages costs in China were almost four times higher than Cambodia and some other countries.26

In the public sector, minimum monthly wages set for April 2017 are:

  • for civil servants, 853,500 riel (about $213)
  • for police, 937,977 riel (about $234) including a rice package
  • for the military, 880,977 riel (about $220), excluding a rice package
  • for teachers and doctors, 953,500 riel (about $238) (excluding a teacher bonus for teaching in remote areas).27

Internal labor migration

Together with loss of land, migration within the country for work is responsible for the move away from agricultural labor28 to garment and construction work. Also, work concentration in only few parts of the country may be another contributing factor for the growing migration nationwide.29 Migration happens en mass from the rural areas to the capital city and its surrounding provinces.30

Overseas labor migration

The number of Cambodians working overseas stood at 350,485 in 2010.31 As of 2014, the number of Cambodians both legally and illegally working overseas grew to more than 600,000.32

Last updated: 28 March 2017 


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