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Migrant rights in spotlight

Migrant rights in spotlight

Rights groups warned yesterday of a renewed urgency for Cambodia to pen an agreement with Kuala Lumpur on migrant labour recruitment regulation, after Indonesia this week lifted a two-year freeze on sending domestic workers to Malaysia.

The memorandum of understanding, signed on Monday, paves the way for potentially hundreds of thousands of Indonesian migrant workers to once again fill jobs in a market they dominated until a spate of reported abuses led Jakarta to impose the freeze in June 2009.

Increased competition from the  Indonesian labour pool would likely result in some Cambodian labour firms cutting corners on wages and protections, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, said yesterday.

“The only thing they can compete on is price. That comes out of the hide of the Cambodian worker – driving down price by cutting corners ... [the] protection of human rights, fair wages, all those types of things,” he said.

The MoU between Indonesia and Malaysia, allbeit imperfect, could set an example of some negotiated protections that the Cambodian government should aspire to, he said. It guarantees a day off per week and the worker’s right to hold their passport. However, it was criticised by Human Rights Watch yesterday for failing to curb recruitment practices that facilitate debt bondage or provide a minimum wage.

An Bunhak, president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, welcomed the MoU yesterday and said Cambodia would seek a similar agreement, though he predicted this probably would not happen until next year. He believes Cambodian labour recruitment firms would not be affected by increased competition because they would retain a niche market with ethnic Chinese-Malaysians, who he said preferred Buddhist employees.

Irene Fernandez, director of the Malaysia-based rights group Tenaganita, said yesterday that, without the protections afforded to Indonesian workers in the MoU, Cambodians would be left even more vulnerable to abuse.

Om Mean, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Labour, said that provisions for a guarantee on a minimum wage for workers and limits to working hours had been added to a sub-decree on migrant worker protections being debated in the Council of Ministers.