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Gov’t gets involved with Japan ‘interns’

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stepped into a labour dispute on behalf of Cambodians working under an “internship” scheme in Japan widely criticised for abusing the rights of foreign workers, it revealed late last week on its Facebook page.

Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry, speaking yesterday, said the embassy in Tokyo had held discussions with the employers of 37 Cambodian “interns” working across three dry-cleaning plants in Japan’s central Gifu prefecture.

The Cambodians complained of low pay, forced work during holidays and high water and rent fees. “They suggested getting higher wages and working only eight hours per day, and wanted a day off on Sunday and for overtime to be on a volunteer basis, not by force,” he said.

Sounry said the employers promised to resolve the dispute by upping wages and providing a day off during the week, although he was unaware exactly how much the Cambodians were being paid.

The Cambodians are working in Japan as part of an “internship” program run by the Japanese government. Originally meant to provide job training for foreign workers in Japan’s labour-starved industries, the scheme has come under fire in the international press for overworking and underpaying the so-called interns, whose actual responsibilities involve little training.

Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said cases of Cambodian worker abuse remained rare in Japan, and attributed the intervention to a recent push for Cambodia’s embassies to help migrant workers.

During a meeting on January 30 with all of Cambodia’s 26 ambassadors, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong urged for embassies to pay greater attention to the needs of Cambodian workers overseas.

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