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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Labour gains and pains

Labour gains and pains

TWICE as many Cambodian migrant workers found jobs in Malaysia through recruitment firms during the first half of the year compared to the same period last year, according to figures provided yesterday by an industry association.

Observers say the surge underscores why authorities must step in to regulate the rapidly expanding labour export industry to ensure that instances of abuse are headed off.

Licensed agencies trained and sent 5,776 workers to Malaysia between January and June, according to statistics compiled by the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies. Most of the migrants, 3,543, were women trained as domestic workers.

The rise was evidence of the growing Malaysian demand for Cambodian domestic workers, which was sparked, in part, by Indonesia’s decision last year to ban its citizens from working in the industry because of concerns about poor conditions, said ACRA Chairman An Bunhak.

“We see that our workers in housekeeping sharply increased during this time because we performed very well,” he said. “The increase was also because Indonesia stopped sending their workers to work in housekeeping jobs.”

Cambodian migrant workers face mistreatment in Malaysia

But the interest in Cambodian labour also presents problems. An Bunhak said there had been a marked increase in recruitment firms that did not always operate according to the code of conduct advocated by ACRA.
“These kinds of companies give us trouble. They use the system in Indonesia and apply it to Cambodia,” he said. “To tell you the truth, some new companies ... they just think about the profit.”

Ministry of Labour officials could not be reached for comment.

There are 28 organisations licensed by the ministry to train and send workers abroad, according to the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking. Last month, labour officials investigated two recruitment firms after workers complained they had been held illegally.

An Bunhak said some firms met trouble by lending money to trainees. When workers decided they did not want to go abroad or sought to return home but were unable to pay out loans, some agencies detained them until debts were paid off, he said. “I will propose to the ministry to order all recruitment agencies to stop offering loans to avoid this behaviour.”

The head of one recruitment firm said he would support such a move.

Sen Ly, director of VC Manpower, said it was standard practice to offer loans of 1 million riels (US$235). “We always lose a lot of the company’s money when [workers] don’t want to work because they cannot repay us the full amount,” he said.

Last month, officials investigated VC Manpower after a woman said she had been held against her will at one of its training centres.

The Ministry of Labour temporarily stopped the group from recruiting new workers, but lifted the restriction soon after.

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