Cambodia and Malaysia expect to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) by the end of the year that would reopen the pipeline of local maids being sent to work there, officials said on the sidelines of a final round of discussions yesterday between the countries.
“This is the final discussion, and we may finish later this year. So His Excellency Minister [Ith Sam Heng] will sign [the agreement] in Malaysia at that time,” said Choub Narat, deputy director-general at the Labour Department of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.
“When the MoU is signed by the two governments, it means [there will be] a legal document to protect [Cambodian maids],” he added. Working conditions “will be better, meaning that they are protected by the law”.
Cambodia placed a moratorium on sending new domestic workers to Malaysia in October 2011 after a raft of rights abuses emerged, including sexual abuse and salary withholding.
According to Malaysian government data, there are currently 13,245 Cambodian workers in Malaysia, including 7,796 maids.
Sok Chanpheakdey, the director-general of recruiter Philimore Cambodia, said Cambodian workers had been migrating to Malaysia since the late 1990s.
Before the ban, Philimore, which itself has been accused in the past of rights abuses, was recruiting 100 to 150 maids a year, Chanpheakdey said.
He added that maids were still travelling to work in Malaysia despite the ban, visiting as “tourists”.
“[Working conditions] will be much better than in the past when the MoU is complete,” he said. “In the past, we didn’t have any government-to-government agreement.”
But Ya Navuth, executive director of CARAM, an NGO that works with migrant workers, was less confident the MoU signing would automatically lead to better working conditions.
“The implementation of MoUs that we have already has so far been very poor,” he said, citing Thailand as an example.
“We need to be sure that the MoU agreement is implemented properly.”