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Abuse fears holding up workers pact for Qatar

Abuse fears holding up workers pact for Qatar

A major factor holding up an agreement to send Cambodian workers to Qatar is the Cambodian government’s refusal to send domestic workers to the country amid a “high risk” of sexual abuse, a Labour Ministry official said yesterday.

Cambodia and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding in 2011 to allow Cambodians to work in the Middle Eastern state, where thousands of migrant workers, many from South Asia, have flocked for jobs in the lead up to the 2022 World Cup.

The agreement, however, is yet to be finalised as Cambodian officials attempt to negotiate safeguards amid widespread reports of unsafe working environments and physical and sexual abuse.

Yesterday, three Cambodian trade unions held a presentation for workers highlighting the potential risks of working in Qatar. According to some reports, more than 1,000 workers have died building stadiums ahead of the tournament.

Speaking yesterday, a Labour Ministry official said trips to Qatar by recruitment companies liaising with the ministry suggested the country was mainly interested in getting domestic workers rather than builders.

The official, who declined to be named as they were not authorised to speak to the media, said the same visits also fuelled concerns about what that might mean for those sent.

“Cambodian domestic workers often have very low education and they could be easily abused,” he said. “Our concern is the high risk of sexual abuse.”

He also noted that the average domestic worker wages in Qatar of $250 were less than in Thailand, while Qatar’s harsh laws could have grave consequences for those sent.

Speaking yesterday, Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said fears surrounding the abuse of domestic workers were “not the only problem” but said the ministry will focus on the issue.

Sok Chanpheakdey of Philimore recruitment agency, one of the firms with a licence to send workers to Qatar when the agreement is finished, has previously visited the country.

“We learned that the culture is a big problem and don’t want to send maids to Qatar.”

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