Labor advocates on Thursday called on the government to add construction work to a new list of self-employed occupations in which foreigners are now banned from working, a request the Labor Ministry declined, citing construction companies’ limits on foreigner workers.
The Labor Ministry on Wednesday issued an order banning foreign nationals from working in 10 self-employed occupations within the country, including taxi and tuk-tuk driver, barber and automotive mechanic.
According to the order signed by Labor Minister Ith Samheng, the ministry also banned foreigners from working as street vendors, private masseuses, cosmeticians, tailors, shoeshiners, souvenir and traditional Khmer instrument makers, metalsmiths, and artisan jewelry makers.
The ministry will not issue or renew work permits to foreigners who are working in these jobs, and would prosecute any foreigners who violated the new rules, the order said.
On Thursday, Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said he had asked the ministry to include construction workers in the group of occupations blacklisted for foreigners, but the ministry declined.
Officials told Thorn that construction work was not self-employed because construction workers have companies managing them, he said.
Moeun Tola, executive director of labor rights group Central, said recently there had been an influx of Chinese and Vietnamese working in the construction sector.
The government should consider the trend in order to help reduce the number of Cambodian workers migrating overseas, Tola said.
“A construction project should hire at least 30 percent of its workers from the local community before thinking about workers from other areas or other countries,” he added.
However, Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said the ministry did not include construction work among the banned occupations because some companies had followed the labor law and limited the number of foreigner workers at their construction sites to 10 percent.
“We believe that within three to four years, our construction workers may be able to subsequently learn necessary techniques and they can move forward to replace foreign workers in the construction sector,” Sour said.
In July, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the country needed Chinese workers because locals lacked necessary skills, the Khmer Times reported.
“Why are there Chinese workers working in Cambodia? It’s because we do not have enough workers and we also lack technical expertise,” Hun Sen said.
The same month, Sour, of the Labour Ministry, said the government was planning the order to prohibit foreigners from doing self-employed work “because our own people can do all such work themselves.”
“We don’t need foreigners to do it,” Sour said.
Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, which represents tuk-tuk drivers and other informal workers, said the government’s action to prohibit foreigners from certain jobs seemed to come a bit late.
“But it’s not too late,” Pov said. “It seems that over the past 10 to 20 years, many foreigners have taken up Cambodian occupations, such as Vietnamese, and Chinese even make Cambodians lose more jobs, making us worried now and for the future.”
Pov urged the government to strictly enforce the law in order to ensure work for local people.
The Labor Ministry granted 56,975 foreigners work permits in 2017, according to a ministry report released last year.