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Labour firm under scrutiny

Women stand on the balcony of the T&P Co Ltd training centre in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district where a 35-year-old trainee died earlier this month. Photo by: Pha Lina

A 16-YEAR-OLD Kampong Thom woman who was trained at labour recruitment firm T&P Co Ltd was sent to Malaysia in December, a local rights advocate said yesterday, contrary to the company’s reports that she had been released from its training centre earlier this month.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said a delegation from CLEC visited Sorm Sophary’s village in Kampong Thom province’s Stung Sen district yesterday to confirm the trainee’s return. He said multiple villagers – including Sorm Sophary’s sister, cousin and next-door neighbours – said she was underage while training at T&P and was sent to Malaysia on December 31.

“When we checked in the village, the girl named Sorm Sophary was not [there],” said Moeun Tola. “The villagers told us that [she] called her parents a week ago and told them she was in Malaysia.”

Sorm Sophary was named among five women that were released from T&P following allegations of forced detainment leveled against the company. Last week, the CLEC found that two of the women – Yorn Srey Leab and Sok Phal of Kampong Chhnang province – had their ages changed from 17 to 21, as well as their names, on T&P documents to make them eligible for work abroad.

The only trainee to be publicly released in front of local authorities was Srun Channang, a 23-year-old from Kampong Cham province, on March 11.

A T&P labour trainer, who declined to be named, said yesterday that she didn’t know who Sorm Sophary was or her whereabouts. However, a T&P broker who recruited the 16-year-old, and who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had already flown to Malaysia.

Mounting controversy about the Kingdom’s labour recruiters has caused Prime Minister Hun Sen to order an investigation into their practices, according to a Facebook update on Friday from Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith.

He said Hun Sen had ordered the Anticorruption Unit to investigate complaints against “social labour office[s]”, following reports in the media.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he wasn’t aware of those orders.

Keo Remy, spokesman of the ACU, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The United Nations’ International Labor Organisation weighed in on the T&P controversy on Friday, issuing a statement that said there is “a pressing need for legislation in Cambodia for better regulation of recruitment agencies”.

“The Ministry of Labour is aware of this and ILO is currently providing technical assistance on the development of rules and regulations on operation of private recruitment agencies and pre-departure orientation,” the statement read.

In a letter to the National Assembly last week, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay called on Labour Minister Vong Sauth to explain the lack of oversight into recruitment firms’ practices.

Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant with rights group Licadho, said yesterday the labour ministry has had “a track record until now of closing their eyes to abusers” in the recruitment industry. However, he said there are many levels of government “that are implicit in the [illegal] practices of recruitment agencies”.

“You’ve got the Ministry of Interior issuing passports with wrong ages,” he said. “I mean, we had cases of [migrant workers] 15 or 16 years old, and they have passports saying that they’re 21.” Additional reporting by David Boyle



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