Many Cambodian housemaids in developing countries like Thailand and Malaysia suffer from non-payment of wages, wrongful deduction of wages to cover work permits, long working hours, poor living conditions, no insurance coverage, travel documents withheld by employers and unfair dismissal.
Yet, it is even more disturbing, as seen in recent news, when many of them are detained and abused in their home countries during pre-departure training at labour companies.
The news of death and horrible escape from the training centre make us ponder whether Cambodia is on the right track of development. Indeed, the sad news could discourage poor Cambodians to challenge for the better and for the opportunity abroad to earn income for our country.
The detention of Cambodian workers during pre-departure for training is so wrong in many ways. First, it is against human rights and law. Private companies have no right or authority to detain people.
Second, it reflects the government’s governance failure to prevent such incidents and to regulate these private companies when similar cases had already happened last year.
The ministry of labour and vocational training has issued guidelines on the recruitment process, warning labour firms not to detain nor trap workers into loans. Yet the guidelines did not come along with strict monitoring, and indication of punishment on violation. In this regard, the government should take tougher measures in monitoring and punishment. The ministry should monitor closely the recruitment process, conduct monthly on-site inspections and regular interviews with trainees. Strong punishment such as withdrawing permission and licenses of the companies and big fines should help deter labour companies from abusing trainees. Meanwhile, NGOs and civil society alike should cooperate to inform workers and their families about their rights and about what to do in response to abuse and detention.
Lightning may never strike in the same place, but the same thing cannot be said of policy and governance failures. Tougher measures from the government and cooperation among NGOs and labour companies need to be in place to deal with the fiasco.
Cambodia’s development in the long term will depend on whether or not we can encourage and support Cambodians to work hard and get rewarded, and to pursue their dreams. We cannot go far in development as long as our breadwinners are harassed, detained and treated badly. These people that risk their lives to earn money for their family and kids’ education are helping to build the foundation of a new generation, and therefore deserve protection and respect.
On behalf of Khmer students at The Australian National University in Canberra.
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