THE Malaysian embassy issued work visas to more than 20,000 Cambodians – the vast majority of whom were prospective domestic employees – in the first eight months of this year, marking an increase of close to four times the number granted two years ago.
According to new figures, a total of 20,909 Cambodians – among them 18,038 domestic workers – were given visas between January and August. A total of 12,682 visas were issued in all of 2009, and 5,304 were issued in 2008.
The sharp increase has coincided with mounting concern over the welfare of Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia, fuelled by a recent spate of complaints from people who claim to have suffered abuse from employers there.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said the new figures underscored the need for “protection mechanisms” for migrant workers, such as accurate records of where they are employed and housed. At present, he said, such mechanisms were weak and had not been expanded to meet the needs of a rapidly growing workforce.
“My concern is that protection mechanisms are working too slowly, slower than the needs of the workers in Malaysia,” he said. “When people migrate illegally, they can face a lot of violations, but even people who migrate legally also face problems.”
Last month, the rights group Adhoc announced that this year had seen 28 complaints from women who claimed to have been abused while working as domestic servants, most of whom were based in Malaysia.
The workers said they had experienced violence, poor working and living conditions and illegal detention.
Hou Vudthy, deputy director of the Labour Ministry’s Employment and Manpower Department, said that the government wanted to encourage labour migration in order to combat unemployment, and was working to make it safer.
“The government has to take control of those recruitment firms [and monitor] whether they recruit legally or illegally,” he said. “Government officials have to follow up and take control of both workers and the firms.”
Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, minister counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, said via email that the embassy was committed to strengthening cooperation with “relevant authorities and parties to ensure that the welfare of the foreign workers from Cambodia is protected”.
He said the embassy only issued work visas to Cambodian nationals who applied through recruitment agencies registered with the Ministry of Labour.
An Bunhak, chairman of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, called for the Cambodian and Malaysian governments to sign a bilateral memorandum of understanding “in order to protect our workers better”.
Last month, the Labour Ministry announced that it had finalised a draft sub-decree designed to protect migrant workers and better regulate the labour- recruitment industry. It is expected to be approved by the government at the end of this year or early next year.