One of the pillars under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will be the free flow of skilled labor across borders by 31 December. Eight selected sectors involving engineering, nursing, architecture, dentistry, medicine, tourism, land surveying and accounting will be covered under this scheme.
Given AEC limitation on labor migration only to these category of skilled professionals, Cambodia with its low- to medium-skill workers may see an influx of better-qualified workforce. AEC may not also drastically boost the number of jobs on offer in the region instead the more liberalize market will increase the competition for these professions and Cambodians may not exclusively see a direct benefit. Instead, the likely scenario to occur is – professionals both from other ASEAN member states and Cambodians will be competing against each other in a bigger pool of qualified people.
Hence there may be a slight sentiment on AEC within local labor grass-root.
Seang Vathana Tann, a Cambodian accounting student provides an interesting case-in-point.
An accounting student at CamEd Business School- she said that after graduating she would consider working abroad to get better experience and higher pay, but she also knows that the competition for local high-skill jobs will only get tougher.
“There might be more skilled workers coming to Cambodia than skilled workers in Cambodia moving abroad,” she said. Foreign professionals will come to occupy the top jobs and it will be hard to compete with them.
Officials and industry experts sought to ease such sentiments.
Heng Sour, spokesman for the Labor Ministry stated that “AEC will have a free flow of labour, but the labour laws in each member state are yet to be changed to date,” he said. “The old requirement of 10 per cent quota for foreigner workers [in Cambodia] will still remain as there is no agreement to change it anytime soon.”
According to Sour, the new regulations will not open the floodgates for workers to enter the country, and member states can use a clause in the AEC regulations to stop the inflow of migrant workers, if they deem there is no need for such workers or if they want to protect the local labour force.
Cambodian industry experts also suggest the transfer of skills and expertise in prioritized field from developed ASEAN countries will benefit Cambodia in the long run. It is worth noting, Cambodia relatively is still behind in terms of talent resource in all selected professions under the ASEAN free labor movement pillar. Moreover, Rana Sowath, a Cambodian Human Resource scholar also stated that Cambodia national institutions and small private companies do not have training programs for their employee.
The arrival of experts from different region provides immense opportunities for Cambodians to acquire the best practice in the highlighted field. Experts may provide an informal approach of passing on their experiences. Key skills may also contribute towards Cambodia’s National Strategic Development plan for enhancing Capacity Building and Human Resource Development 2014-2018.
From a short-term perspective, the impact of AEC to Cambodia will be felt by locals, given the anticipated arrival of foreign experts to their shores. Experienced or freshly minted graduates will face the heat. The latter will feel the pinch more – given that companies may be attracted to better qualified foreign graduates with competent technical and communication skills.
Equally, however, the cumulative learning experience from other developed ASEAN members should not be discounted. This indirect form of capacity building through selected transferable skills may provide Cambodia with the needed stepping stone to increase the country talent capacity.