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
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
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
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
Together with loss of land, migration within the country for work is responsible for the move away from agricultural labor27 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.28 Migration happens en mass from the rural areas to the capital city and its surrounding provinces.29
Last updated: 29 December 2016
- 1. International Labour Organisation. “Country profiles: Cambodia.” Accessed 31 October 2015. www.ilo.org/ilostat/faces/home/statisticaldata/ContryProfileId?_adf.ctrl-state=vv0njesvb_414&_adf.dialog=true&_afrLoop=4717172277077096
- 2. Ministry of Planning, National Institute of Statistics. “Census of Agriculture in Cambodia 2013.” Accessed 30 January 2015. http://nada-nis.gov.kh/index.php/catalog/26/overview
- 3. Chandarany OUCH, Chanhang SAING, and Dalis PHANN. “Assessing China’s Impact on Poverty Reduction in the Greater Mekong Sub-region: The Case of Cambodia.” Working Paper Series No.52, Development Resource Institute (CDRI), June 2011.
- 4. Sovannara Lim. 2007. “Youth Migration and Urbanisation in Cambodia.” Working Paper 36, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Cambodia and Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI).
- 5. Agence France Presse. “Cambodia garment workers’ plight worsening: ILO.” The Peninsula, 19 July 2013. Accessed 24 December 2014. http://thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/asia/245622/cambodia-garment-workers%E2%80%99-plight-worsening-ilo
- 6. Chris Mueller, and Ouch Sony. “Ministry unclear over who needs work permits.” The Cambodia Daily, 16 January 2015. Accessed 4 February 2015. www.cambodiadaily.com/news/ministries-unclear-over-who-needs-work-permits-76262/
- 7. Ouch Sony. “Ministry outlines procedures for businesses hiring foreigners.” The Cambodia Daily, 28 January 2015. Accessed 4 February 2015. https://www.cambodiadaily.com/business/ministry-outlines-procedures-for-businesses-hiring-foreigners-76829/
- 8. International Labour Organization. “NORMLEX: Ratifications for Cambodia.” Accessed 31 October 2015. http://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11200:0::NO::P11200_COUNTRY_ID:103055
- 9. International Labour Organization. “Decent Work Country Programme Cambodia (2011-2015).” Accessed 2 November 2015. http://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/program/dwcp/download/cambodia.pdf
- 10. Mom Kunthear. ‘Govt preps labor court for 2017’, Khmer Times, 31 December 2015. Accessed 30 January 2016. http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/19350/gov—t-preps-labor-court-for-2017/
- 11. Licadho, December 2016. Built on Slavery: Debt bondage and child labor in Cambodia’s brick factories.
- 12. Anna McMullen. “Shop til they drop: Fainting and malnutrition in garment workers in Cambodia.”.Community Legal Education Centre. Accessed 30 January 2015. http://www.clec.org.kh/publicationDetail.php?spID=21#.Vjbn3mQrKiA.
- 13. International Labour Organization. “ILO’s statement on the death of Cambodian workers in a road accident.” Accessed 2 November 2015. http://www.ilo.org/asia/info/public/pr/WCMS_370198/lang–en/index.htm
- 14. Mom Kunthear. “Committee for work safety created”, Khmer Times, 23 November 2016.
- 15. Alex Consiglio and Hay Pisey. “Construction workers’ lives hang in the balance.” The Cambodia Daily, 20 November 2014. Accessed 31 October 2015. www.cambodiadaily.com/news/construction-workers-lives-hang-in-the-balance-72679/
- 16. Mom Kunthear. “Committee for work safety created”, Khmer Times, 23 November 2016.
- 17. The Arbitration Council. “Statistics on labour dispute resolution.” Accessed 31 October 2015. http://www.arbitrationcouncil.org/en/about-us/statistics
- 18. International Labour Organization. “Country profiles: Cambodia.” Accessed 31 October 2015. www.ilo.org/ilostat/faces/home/statisticaldata/ContryProfileId?_adf.ctrl-state=vv0njesvb_414&_adf.dialog=true&_afrLoop=4717172277077096
- 19. International Labour Organization. “Country profiles: Cambodia.” Accessed 31 October 2015. www.ilo.org/ilostat/faces/home/statisticaldata/ContryProfileId?_adf.ctrl-state=vv0njesvb_414&_adf.dialog=true&_afrLoop=4717172277077096
- 20. Charles Rollet and Sum Manet. “As Phnom Penh’s skyline rises, so do wages.” The Phnom Penh Post, 28 March 2015. Accessed 31 October 2015. www.phnompenhpost.com/post-weekend/phnom-penhs-skyline-rises-so-do-wages
- 21. Heng Reaksmey “Workers say $128 per month is not enough to live on.” Voice of America Khmer, 21 November 2014. Accessed 4 February 2015. http://www.voacambodia.com/content/workers-say-128-per-month-is-not-enough-to-live-on/2529249.html
- 22. Electricity of Cambodia (EdC). “Implementing phase one of electricity subscription at 610 Riels for factory workers renting houses or rooms in Phnom Penh.” Open Development Cambodia, 22 January 2015. Accessed 4 February 2015. http://www.opendevelopmentcambodia.net/pdf-viewer/?pdf=wp-content/files_mf/1422411599EDC_Announcement.pdf
- 23. Mom Kunthear and Charles Rollet. “LAC ups garment salary to $140.” The Phnom Penh Post, 8 October 2015. Accessed 31 October 2015. www.phnompenhpost.com/national/lac-ups-garment-salary-140-0
- 24. Prak Chan Tul, 2016. “Cambodia raises 2017 minimum wage for textile industry workers”, Reuters, 29 September 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/cambodia-garment-idUSL3N1C51OD accessed 2 November 2016.
- 25. Mom Kunthear 2016. “Minimum wage for all a step closer”, Khmer Times, 28 October 2016.
- 26. Asian Development Bank. 2016. “Asian Development Outlook 2016”. Accessed 2 April 2016. https://opendevelopmentcambodia.net/wp-admin/post.php?post=65782&action=edit
- 27. Ouch Chandarany Saing Chan Hang; Phann Dalis. “Assessing China’s impact on poverty reduction in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region: The case of Cambodia.” Working Paper Series No.52, Cambodian Development Resource Institute, June 2011.
- 28. Sithi.org. “Garment Factories and Supply Chains.” Updated in January 2014, para.2. Accessed December 24, 2014. http://sithi.org/temp.php?url=bhr_new/bhr_list.php
- 29. UNFPA Cambodia. “Cambodia youth data sheet 2013.” Accessed 22 December 2014. http://countryoffice.unfpa.org/cambodia/drive/Youth-Data-Sheet.pdf
- 30. International Fund for Agricultural Development. 2013. “Sending money home to Asia: Trends and opportunities in the world’s largest remittance marketplace.” Accessed 22 December 2014. http://www.ifad.org/remittances/events/2013/globalforum/resources/sendingmoneyasia.pdf
- 31. Aun, Pheap. “Hun Sen, Prayuth Meet on Summit Sidelines.” The Cambodia Daily, 22 December 2014. Accessed 22 December 2014. https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/hun-sen-prayuth-meet-on-summit-sidelines-74627/