Cambodia's embassy in Malaysia yesterday denied pressuring domestic workers from the Kingdom into renewing their visas, after rights groups told the Post last week that the embassy exploited a legal loophole to keep maids in the country.
The statement came as a Malaysian employers association, which has observed the drafting of a new agreement to send more maids to the country following the imposition of a ban in 2011, for the first time revealed details of the proposed agreement.
In a letter to Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s Ambassador to Malaysia Arun Rasmey defended the embassy’s policy of renewing maids’ visas.
“If a maid decides to continue working with her employer, if the embassy was to delay issuing a visa to them and they cannot get a work permit from Malaysian immigration, they will become illegal immigrants and face many problems,” she wrote.
Rasmey added that there have been cases in which visas were renewed after a maid suffered abuse because, in order for the embassy to file a complaint, the maid must stay in the country.
But An Bunhak, president of local recruitment firm Top Manpower, said that while the embassy has conducted some vetting of maids whose employers try to renew their visas, there were no concrete guidelines and more than one way to circumvent the system.
“We know that the embassy, before they make extensions, needs to interview the maids first to see if they want to continue working, and to clarify their salary and so on,” he said, adding that there are no rules or strict controls.
“It’s not only the embassy in Kuala Lumpur that can make an extension. Employers can also send passports to Cambodia to make extensions at the Ministry of Interior, and at the embassies in Vietnam and Thailand. So if the employee doesn’t want to follow [the rules], they can escape it. That’s why we need clear guidelines, so other embassies and employers can’t make extensions.”
For a few women, such as Toch Nai, 24, who were able to return from Malaysia after suffering under abusive employers, the embassy in Kuala Lumpur did offer help.
“My boss beat me and made me work long hours. I got injured on my body and eyes, so I ran to the embassy and stayed there until they helped me come back,” she said. “I want to forget my time there. I cannot see properly, but I came back to start a new life.”
Others have been less fortunate. Soum Saroun, 53, lost touch with her daughter two years after she went to Malaysia in 2010.
“For two years, I’ve not had contact with my daughter,” Saroun said. “I’m so worried about her. I don’t want her money, I just want her back.”
A moratorium was placed on sending domestic workers to Malaysia in 2011 amid mounting concerns over abuses, including rape and the withholding of salaries.
In a bid to restart the program, a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been drafted and is awaiting approval after consultations between employers and the Malaysian and Cambodian governments.
Datuk Raja Zulkepley Dahalan, president of the Malaysian Association of Employment Agencies (PIKAP), told the Post yesterday that there were several points in the new draft that will help protect workers.
“I understand the MoU is finished now, or very close to finished. I understand we are only waiting for the green light from Cambodia,” he said. “Under the MoU, there will be proper training of at least 200 hours before they come to Malaysia. That’s the same as Indonesia. They must understand our culture and immigration procedure.”
He added that some of the other requirements included 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. Employers, however, will be able to hold the passports of the maids in their employ, he added, “and that is OK, I think”.
Dahalan is concerned that if the MoU is signed, it will include a minimum wage for the maids, whereas he believes that employers and agencies should be able to offer “market rates”.
“We prefer that salaries are limited only by the market. It’s no problem; it should be a market rate. They shouldn’t fix the price,” he said.