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Without New Skills, Cambodian Workers Face Challenges in Asean

Mr. Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union in Cambodia and Ms. Ngak Savoeun, a representative of garment workers in F.Y Factory, join a discussion on the impact of the Asean Economic Integration on Cambodia’s garment industry during VOA Khmer’s “Asean Corner” (Hello VOA) radio call-in show on Thursday, July 2, 2015 in Phnom Penh. (Lim Sothy/VOA Khmer)

With Asean integration growing closer, Cambodia’s workers will need new skills if they are to compete in an open region, labor experts say.

Garment workers have few new skills, keeping them from moving up, Chea Mony, head of the Free Trade Union, told “Hello VOA” Thursday.

And without more skills in general, Cambodian laborers may be forced to migrate to work the lowest-level jobs in the region, such as construction, he said. Meanwhile, even students who graduate universities don’t end up working in their fields.

The government needs to do more to diversify opportunities for people, he said. “We have only the garment industry. Besides this, what do we have? Construction?”

Workers need training to do more kinds of manufacturing jobs, he said. “If a Japanese company comes to invest, and they want to produce electrical wiring or other electronic products, we need our workers trained,” he said.

Right now, Cambodia’s low-skilled workforce is not attractive to many types of investment, he said. Those enterprises—and jobs—go elsewhere. And that won’t get any better with an economically integrated Asean.

Ngak Savoeun, a representative of workers at the FY factory in Phnom Penh, said Cambodia’s workers never get jobs requiring high skills.

“I’ve worked in a factory for 11 years, and I have not seen the government or the Ministry of Labor ever come train workers or employees to help them obtain skills and professions for the future,” she said.

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, said he believes no new industry will likely come soon to Cambodia, where mostly simple goods requiring minimum skills is required. “In Cambodia, we only sew simple and easy products to export to the EU, to the US.”

Cambodia’s industry brings in billions of dollars for the economy and employs more than 600,000 workers, but it will not be able to compete with skilled workers in the region, he said.