The Ministry of Labour plans to delay signing off on a controversial agreement to reopen a pipeline of Cambodian maids to Malaysia until a deal is reached on a second agreement regarding other migrant workers, a ministry official said yesterday.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour told the Post that no date has been set for the final discussions over the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) regarding domestic workers, but Cambodia is “proposing [that the] Malaysian side … also draft [a second] MoU” concerning workers including those in manufacture and agriculture industries.
“We want to conclude the two MoU[s] at the same time,” Sour said by text message yesterday.
A moratorium was introduced on sending maids to Malaysia in October 2011 amid mounting concerns over abuses, including rape and starvation, which led to several deaths.
Earlier this month, a Malaysian employers association, which has observed the drafting of the new agreement, revealed to the Post alleged details of the drafted MoU.
Datuk Raja Zulkepley Dahalan, president of the Malaysian Association of Employment Agencies (PIKAP), said that in addition to safeguards such as the drafting of legally binding contracts that included the maid’s salary, the “responsibilities and rights” of both parties and a day’s leave per week, the drafted agreement allows for employers to hold the passports of maids in their employ.
Glorene Das, program director at Malaysia-based NGO Tenaganita – which has not been consulted about the MoU in recent months – said she feared that Cambodian workers could end up trapped in abusive homes and left to “suffer in silence”.
“For us, employers should not be keeping passports of workers … [as this would mean] they hold the life of the worker because that is the only form of identity that belongs to them.”
Das said withholding passports would leave maids unable “to seek help [or] maintain contact with the embassy”.
“It allows employers to control the freedom of movement [so] they can’t leave the employment” even if it is abusive, she said.
In a report released last week, the Community Legal Education Center said that in 2013 alone it received 35 new complaints of domestic worker abuse in Malaysia.