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Blood, toil and permits

Blood, toil and permits

Foreigners applying for required work permits in Cambodia may need to get blood drawn at the Ministry of Labour to see if they are free of “contagious diseases”, government officials confirmed yesterday, pointing to a longstanding, but little known, part of the Labour Law.

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, said yesterday that as part of the work permit application process, foreigners without medical certificates from abroad will need a blood test. The same standards apply to Cambodian nationals, he said.

“According to the procedure, the foreign worker or the Cambodian worker who applies for the work permit needs to come to the Department of Occupational Safety and Health [at the Ministry of Labour] for the medical check-up,” he said. “There is an exemption that if the foreigner has a medical certificate from overseas, then they can submit their health certificate … to prove that they are healthy.”

The practice, he said, has been standard since the late 1990s, but it has not been enforced with much muscle.

“We have been implementing such procedures since 1998 . . . starting from now on, we will be strict,” he said. “We would like to appeal to the foreign worker and some of the enterprises to go through this procedure.

“This [past] year, we have more strict inspection, and for 2015, the inspection will be more strict.”

Article 261 of Cambodia’s Labour Law says that foreigners “must be fit for their job and have no contagious diseases”. It does not specify what those diseases might be.

Since August last year, when the government rolled out a nationwide census that included ramped-up checks on foreign work permits, businesses have scrambled to meet the new – or old, depending on how you look at it – requirements, which mandate a $100 work permit, fines for not having the necessary paperwork, and retroactive fines for past years worked without the documentation.

Sok Phal, director general of the Department of Immigration, said that the fine for being found without a permit is $125, and it only gets worse from there.

“For the [second] half year of 2014, when we implemented the joint statement between the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Interior, we have fined more than $300,000 from those foreigners working without labour IDs,” he said yesterday.

“Our implementation is that first, if they don’t have [the work permit], they face fines. Second time, they face dismissal and third time, they face being sent to prison if they still don’t get a work permit.”

However, Sour, the Labour Ministry spokesman, said the end result is deportation.

“Foreign workers will face penalties, and then they are subject to be deported from Cambodia,” he said. “And for the owner of the enterprise, they will also be subjected to a penalty; they will be restricted from employing the foreign worker.”

Companies can have no more than 10 per cent of personnel made up of foreigners, unless a special exemption is applied for and granted.

To date, announcements from the government have focused on fines and other consequences, but little to nothing has been said about the blood tests that are part of the work permit application process.

“I haven’t looked into this in the case of Cambodia, but on first impression, it seems to me that this is nothing more than a [discriminatory] effort by the MOL to crack down on foreign workers,” said Jeffrey Vogt, legal adviser for the International Trade Union Confederation.

An official working for a department inside the ministry said that before it issues a work permit for foreigners, “he/she must have blood tested to check that you are healthy”.

“They must do blood tests yearly and pay $25 each time. They have to bring three photos along,” said the employee, who was not authorised to speak to the media and asked not to be named.

The employee was not aware of what would happen if the worker was found to be carrying the unspecified contagious diseases.

“I’m not sure what policy exists for those who are not healthy or face dismissal from their company, but most of the time, there is no problem for those foreign staff,” the worker said.

“After they are tested and their results returned, they still work for their own company. So we can issue a work permit for them.”