More than 30 domestic workers arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport yesterday morning to fly to Malaysia, despite a decision by the prime minister to ban recruitment firms from sending workers to the country following abuse scandals.
Crying as they bid farewell to their families, the young women form part of an estimated 3,000 workers who are expected to slip through a loophole in the recruitment freeze – which government officials say will not apply to workers who already have contracts and travel documents.
An estimated 28 recruits from Top Manpower and International Investment Service boarded the 8:20am AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur yesterday, while four recruits from Century Manpower – which was raided by the government earlier this month – flew on a later flight after being accosted by reporters.
One recruit from the firm told a Post reporter she was only 19 years old, but prevented the journalist from seeing her passport.
The legal working age for domestic workers in Malaysia is 21 and five underage recruits were rescued during raids on Century Manpower earlier this month.
“I can learn something new abroad. I can send money to my family. I will defend myself to be safe,” Krong Kunthea said before flying out.
Meanwhile, a representative from Top Manpower shouted obscenities at a Post photographer and tried to prevent him taking photographs of the company recruits. Human rights groups yesterday lambasted the Labour Ministry’s “ridiculous” decision to still allow trainees to be sent to the notorious destination and said the exemption rendered the ban signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday a “cosmetic smokescreen”.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre, said that by providing exemptions to a ban prompted by recurring cases of abuse, Cambodia had become a country that effectively sanctioned “legal trafficking”.
“It’s clearly identified as human trafficking,” he said.
Mathieu Pellerin, a legal consultant with the rights group Licadho, said the decision was a ridiculous contradiction of the premier’s ban and clearly demonstrated that the Ministry of Labour was incapable of regulating the sector.
“That is crazy, that doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
“This effectively renders the ban a useless cosmetic ban which fails to protect migrant workers.”
Om Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, confirmed yesterday that recruits with travel documents and contracts could be sent to Malaysia.
“But from now on the recruitment firms cannot recruit any worker to send to Malaysia, provide training or prepare any documents for them,” he said.
Within the industry itself, the move has been welcomed. Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies head An Bunhak, whose company Top Manpower sent workers to Kuala Lumpur yesterday before the Labour Ministry met with recruitment firms to announce the decision, welcomed the move as a “win win”.
“The minister [of labour] has agreed that all the maids that have documents and have the training, they have the right to fly,” he said, estimating that this applied to about 3,000 of the 7,000 domestic recruits currently living inside recruitment agency training centres.
His company alone would send about 100 more recruits during the next two to three months that would pass before all domestic workers that could still be legally sent had departed.
A representative of Century Manpower said the firm would send many more workers to Malaysia, but declined to comment further.
Despite the furore, families seemed willing to send their daughters abroad regardless of reported abuse. Waiting to wave farewell to two of his daughters, Kroung Sambath said he had registered his children with Century Manpower after a bad experience with another firm. “One of my daughters used to be in Malaysia with another company. It was so difficult. They hid information about my children,”
he said. “I [will] miss my daughter very much but I have agreed to let her leave because she is leaving to get work to get a salary to support her family. And it is her future,” Kroung Sambath said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA