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Movement on migrant Memorandum of Understanding

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A maid who suffered abuse at the hands of her employer in Malaysia returns to Cambodia with a group of 11 other former domestic migrant workers, in February. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

A migrant worker Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is back in the spotlight after Malaysia yesterday agreed to send a delegation of senior government officials to meet with their Cambodian counterparts tomorrow and Thursday.

MoU talks are of mounting importance in the face of escalating evidence of abuse and violence perpetrated against Cambodian domestic workers in the fellow ASEAN member state.

“This is the first time for discussions in seats together in the same room,” said Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior.

“We have only had diplomatic letters back and forth, but this time, we will sit face to face to discuss how to protect our migrant workers in Malaysia.”

The Post yesterday spotlighted the story of one returned maid who escaped an abusive employer only to be abducted and kept as a sex-slave in Malaysia before escaping.

She continues the uphill battle for justice nearly a year on from being returned to Cambodia.

In October, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced a moratorium on sending maids to Malaysia amid a spate of abuse and exploitation scandals that included allegations of forced detention, underage recruitment, withholding of pay and brutal treatment by employers.

Hou Vuthy, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Labour, said the government would use the MoUs it had with Thailand and Vietnam as a template for discussions with Malaysia.

Indonesia, which similarly placed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to Malaysia, had protracted discussions with Malaysia before an MoU between the two countries was settled.

“[One] of the sore points for Indonesia was a day off for domestic workers,” Daniel Lo, a migrant worker rights advocate in Malaysia told the Post yesterday.

Other sticking points in those negotiations included the confiscation of passports and the payment of salaries into private bank accounts – issues similarly concerning rights groups here.

“I would recommend the Cambodian government consult with civil society, or at the very least seek input from the Malaysian Bar Counsel,” Lo said, adding that employment recruiter agencies were often a loud and biased voice in Malaysian policymaking on migrant worker MoUs.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sen David at david.sen@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Bridget Di Certo

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