A regional seminar entitled Labor Migration and Rural Development took place on Friday 10 June 2016 at the Senate of Cambodia. This event was organized by the General Secretariats of the Senate and the National Assembly, and the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia. The 200 participants included Senators, Members of Parliament, and parliamentary staff from Cambodia, Lao PDR,

Myanmar and Thailand. Representatives from the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia and other development partners also attended.

Mr Dararith Kim-Yeat, the Executive Director of the Parliamentary Institute of Cambodia, reported that the seminar marked the culmination of the parliamentary research training undertaken at PIC by six Fellows from the region (Laos, Myanmar and Thailand) and their Cambodian counterparts (interns from the Senate and the National Assembly), as part of PIC Regional Fellowship Program.

In his opening remarks, H.E. Mr. Leng Peng Long, the Secretary General of the National Assembly, confirmed that the training for the parliamentary officials from other countries in the region was an important element in strengthening the technical cooperation and experience-sharing among the parliaments of developing countries. He firmly believed that these combined resources had the capacity to promote the provision of quality research services for the benefit of individual parliamentarians, as well as commissions. Furthermore, he added, the trainees would be able to share knowledge with their colleagues after returning to their workplaces.

After the opening session, the parliamentary researchers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand presented their research papers with subsequent debate moderated by PIC’s senior parliamentary research instructors. Discussion revolved around cross-border labor migration, decentralization and rural development. The presenters explored the current situation along with the challenges and policy options. In addition, experts from International Labor Organization and International Organization for Migration gave regional perspectives, pinpointing clear trends and the possible future impacts of these issues across the countries.

The research findings confirmed that Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar tend to be the countries of origin for migrant laborers, with Thailand as their chief destination. This was due to relatively high wage levels in Thailand, which were attractive when compared with the lower wage levels on offer in the countries of origin. For example, figures show that, in 2013, migrant workers from Cambodia received a monthly minimum wage of about USD 300 from working in Thailand. This contrasts with the average of USD 119 they would have received in Cambodia. Much of the money earned from migrant labor is sent home in the form of remittances and, interestingly, the Cambodian interns discovered that remittances from female migrants were around 20 percent higher than the sums sent home by their male counterparts.

Among other interesting discoveries, the trainee parliamentary researchers from Lao PDR found that unregistered migration was more financially rewarding than registered migration due to formal processing fees for documents. Fixed costs for registered migration in Lao is on average about USD 626 – a relatively high amount that detracted from wages earned.

Furthermore, around 10 percent of the Myanmar population are working outside of the country, and Thailand is the destination for a substantial 70 percent of these people.

Findings and discussion relating to decentralization pinpointed its contribution to rural development. The availability of funds from local resources and government for local authorities to initiate local developments such rural roads and education, as well as public service delivery, was shown to be a key element in the success of development initiatives, overall. However, all countries found that a lack of local development planning and national policies, and a shortage of human resources and citizen participation, were among the major challenges to rural development and poverty reduction for every government in the countries studied.

Ms. Sofia Ariani, Director of Policy, Education, and Publicity for the AIPA Secretariat, commented on the link between migration, rural development and decentralization. Ms Sofia emphasized that the uneven wealth distribution among rural and urban societies also contributed to the increasing number of workers migrating in the region. The progressive deterioration of farming income and its effects on rural economies was causing the disappearance of many family farms, she said. Unless governments were able to offer alternatives to fight rural poverty, she foresaw the dying of smallholder and family agriculture enterprises, which were the basis for a more sustainable food production system.

Finally, in his closing speech, H.E. Mr Oum Sarith, the Secretary General of the Senate, stated that as ASEAN sought ever-deeper integration to become one community, it would require both national and regional laws to be uniform and consistent. He added that, consequently, the parliaments of each of the member countries would need human resources with better skills. He also called for greater cooperation and stronger support from partner organizations at the national and regional levels to support the attendant development policies.