Rights groups said yesterday a ban on sending Cambodian domestic workers to Malaysia – signed by the Prime Minister on Saturday – should not be lifted until both countries implemented measures to stop deaths, rapes, forced detainment and under-age recruitment in the labour sector.
Groups including Licadho, Tenaganita and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party welcomed the ban by Prime Minister Hun Sen but said it had to be foll-owed by concrete, legally binding mechanisms to clamp down on rampant exploitation in the recruitment industry.
The directive temporarily preventing recruitment firms sending workers to Malaysia followed the discovery of 35 under-age recruits at a T&P training centre last week.
T&P, a firm connected with deaths and the use of under-age trainees, became the first Cambodian labour firm to have its licence removed as a result of abusing the rights of workers.
“Recently, the government found that sending maids to Malaysia appeared to have numerous negative points,” the directive stated.
Sam Rainsy party lawmaker Mu Sochua has been one of the most vocal lobbyists for increased control of the sector.
She said yesterday Hun Sen had ordered the ban without hesitation after she approached him during a break at the National Assembly on Friday.
“There was no convincing at all. I went straight up to him and, with a lot of mutual respect, raised the situation. He said: ‘I agree with you.’
“I told him three women had died in June [in Malaysia] and that one woman had just come back totally psychotic.
“Right away, he asked Mr Sok An to call the minister of labour and tell him he had personally ordered a ban.”
Mu Sochua said the ill-treatment of Cambodian migrant workers had become a nat-ional issue that transcended partisan politics.
Her party had sent recommendations to Hun Sen following his decision based on an International Labour Organis-ation convention on domestic migrant workers, adopted in June this year, that sets out basic rights for the industry.
Irene Fernandez, director of the Malaysia-based rights group Tenaganita, said Cambodia needed to push the Malaysian government for standardised contracts that provided basic rights such as one day off a week and guaranteed monthly payment of salary.
“Right now, there is no legal framework. It’s up to the goodwill of the employer, and that’s where the door opens for abuse,” Fernandez said.
Treating foreign workers as equals was the first principle the Malaysian government should embrace before the ban was lifted and she called for the introduction of health care, complaint mechanisms and rules ensuring passports were not withheld, she added.
Licadho and Human Rights Watch have also released statements supporting the ban. “The suspension will prevent more Cambodian women being placed at risk of abuse, but the government must also help those already working in Mal-aysia,” a statement released by Licadho yesterday read.
“The Cambodian embassy in Kuala Lumpur must ensure that abused women are . . . swiftly repatriated.”
But Fernandez said the embassy simply did not have the resources to support the 30,000 Cambodians recruited into the industry this year and the 50,000 others who had already been approved.
She said her organisation had rescued 65 Cambodian domestic workers this year.
An Bunhak, president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said Cambodia should use a memorandum of understanding Indonesia signed with Malaysia in May after they instituted a similar ban in 2009 as a basis for their own agreement.
“Migrant workers need to have one day off, they need to hold their passports, they should have a separate bank account, and their salary should be deposited monthly so their employer cannot abuse [them],” An Bunhak said.
All recruitment firms would attend a meeting today where the conditions of the ban would be spelled out, he said, adding that trainees without existing contracts in Malaysia would be released from centres and sent home.
But Mu Sochua said author-ities would now have to deal with the problem of what to do with trainees that recruitment firms had already invested money in for travel documents and training.
The directors of two major labour recruitment firms, Ung Rithy and Philimore, said yesterday they had yet to receive the directive.
Labour Ministry officials declined to comment.