A new sub-decree regulating migrant worker recruitment firms made public yesterday has drawn harsh criticism from rights groups that say it fails to tackle core issues leading to abuse.
Cambodian labour recruitment agencies have repeatedly come under fire over a litany of reported abuses that rights groups say are endemic. The sub-decree, signed off by Prime Minister Hun Sen last Wednesday, has been touted as a means to regulate the sector.
It requires recruitment firms to register all employees with the Ministry of Labour and provides a three-step penalty process against firms that violate its rules. The process ends in permanent closure.
Rights group Licadho, however, yesterday slammed its failure to address core issues such as debt bondage and the indefinite detention of recruits in training centres. “It’s a very weak piece of legislation that fails to address any of the core issues we have raised in the past and in some cases is worse than the legislation we had before,” Licadho consultant Mathieu Pellerin said.
There was no limit on the time recruits could be held in training centres and policy guidelines on the issue released by the Ministry of Labour and the International Labour Organisation last year appeared to have largely been ignored, he said.
Licadho and other anti-trafficking organisations, he said, had been shut out of the drafting process.
As a result the sub-decree missed key issues such as debt bondage whereby recruits who are unable to pay off loans can be forcibly detained. “For the sub-decree to fail to mention that is outrageous,” he said.
But Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies president An Bunhak praised the legislation yesterday and said gaps in it would be addressed in subsequent rules and regulations being developed.
“Hopefully all the stakeholders don’t just leave the sub-decree as a piece of paper but actually implement it,” he said.
Issues such as debt bondage and the withholding of passports by employers were covered by the International Labour Organisation’s Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers that Cambodia signed onto in June, he said.
Mouen Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, criticised weak penalties against agencies that abused domestic workers or illegally detained them, which did not include any criminal or financial sanctions.
He added that some parts of the legislation were a step in the right direction.
Chou Bun Leng, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment when contacted by the Post.