A LABOUR recruitment firm accused of forcing employees to live in cramped, squalid conditions will be ordered to temporarily stop enlisting new clients, an industry official said yesterday.
An Bunhak, chairman of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said a Ministry of Labour committee met Monday to discuss the case of the Champa Manpower Group, which has been accussed of corralling 200 would-be migrants into three villas in Russey Keo district.
He said the decision had been reached by officials at the meeting.
“It means the ministry will not allow this company to recruit until inspectors find out they have applied the requirements of the Ministry of Labour and other authorities,” said An Bunhak, whose organisation represents 16 companies.
He added that he believed the decision marked the first time the ministry had taken such an action against a recruitment firm licensed by the government to train and send workers abroad.
“Starting from now on, I think the Ministry of Labour is taking very strong action,” An Bunhak said.
He also said that Labour Ministry officials would call on recruitment firms to improve standards in all training centres.
“From now on, the inspector will go to the recruitment agency training centres to see how many migrant workers can be put in the centre. This is the message,” he said.
The move follows a police raid last week on the company’s villas, during which police found 232 women and girls living in rooms one official described as being like “duck or chicken cages”.
Earlier this week, officials began investigating a second company, VC Manpower Co, after a woman who escaped from a Sen Sok district training centre on Sunday by leaping from a window said she and other workers had been locked in rooms “as prisoners”.
Labour Ministry officials could not be reached for comment yesterday; nor could officials from the two recruitment firms.
Moeun Tola, the head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said authorities must “wake up” to the situation and protect workers.
“It seems to happen again and again,” he said of the allegations of forced detention. It clearly shows that the government ... has not taken any serious actions on these companies.”
Moeun Tola said workers have told him it is common for some companies to pay agents a commission for each recruited worker, which the workers are then bound to repay.
As a result, workers sometimes accrue significant debt to the recruitment firms before they even begin training, he said.
Paying off loans
Clients at both recruitment firms targeted by officials this month have said some trainees were barred from leaving because the company owners were afraid they would break their contracts, or because the company had loaned money to their families.
Such actions are outlawed by the country’s Labour Law, which explicitly prohibits hiring people to work off debts.
An Bunhak said his association – which does not count either of the firms as members – asked the Labour Ministry on Monday to ban recruitment firms from loaning money, and to instead urge microfinance institutions to take on that role.
“I very strongly believe that if we do not provide loans to the families, all the workers will be 100 percent free,” he said. “They will have the choice to stay at the training centre or to rent a house outside.”
According to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, Cambodia has at least 28 organisations licensed by the Ministry of Labour to recruit workers to send overseas, including two NGOs and the ministry itself.