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Migrant worker protections ‘lacking’, reports find

Cambodian migrant workers who were deported by Thai authorities are processed at the Poipet Transit Centre earlier this month in Banteay Meanchey province.
Cambodian migrant workers who were deported by Thai authorities are processed at the Poipet Transit Centre earlier this month in Banteay Meanchey province. Sahiba Chawdhary

Migrant worker protections ‘lacking’, reports find

Cambodia lacks effective mechanisms to protect its citizens working both as legal and undocumented migrants abroad, where such workers also face insufficient protection from the countries that receive them, according to two new reports published last week.

The reports come at a time of major crackdowns on undocumented migrants in the region. Thousands of Cambodians have returned home after Thailand passed new laws imposing strict punishments on undocumented workers and their employers, while Malaysia has arrested thousands of workers since July 1 in a campaign against undocumented migrants.

Mekong Migration Network’s (MMN) report Safe from the Start – The Roles of Countries of Origin in Protecting Migrants found in interviews with Cambodian migrant workers that the Kingdom needs to better regulate its recruitment agencies, reduce costs and time for legal migration channels, provide better overseas assistance and establish effective complaint mechanisms. They also recommend strengthening predeparture training.

Reiko Harima, MMN regional coordinator, said in an email that “the most urgent tasks for Cambodia are to improve overseas assistance, and also to negotiate with Thailand to improve conditions for migrant workers”.

“[Migrants] reported to MMN that when they have approached embassies for help, they were not given assistance,” she said. What’s more, she added, “Cambodian migrants leaving Thailand experience difficulty securing the social security benefits that they are entitled to, as there is no practical mechanism for the transfer of money.”

In a push to document migrant workers in Thailand, Cambodia’s Labour Ministry in a statement yesterday clarified the procedure: Thai employers have to register their undocumented Cambodian workers by August 7 at one of the 97 newly established offices in Thailand, where Cambodians workers then have to present themselves between August 8 and September 9. Until December 31, workers “must not change the employer or locations, or resign without permission”.

People wait in a queue to apply for Cambodian passports in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo supplied
People wait in a queue to apply for Cambodian passports in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photo supplied

Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour in a Facebook video on Sunday said the procedure benefited the workers, who would “get the salary based on the law of Thailand, get health and life insurance during the work and get the National Social Security from the Thai government”.

But Moeun Tola, director of labour rights group Central, yesterday said that this was insufficient. “It’s not effective enough yet, since some employers prefer hiring undocumented workers instead of documented ones,” he said.

However, Cambodia doesn’t bear sole responsibility for protecting its migrants, according to a report titled Towards a Comprehensive National Policy on Labour Migration for Malaysia.

The Migrant Workers Right to Redress Coalition expressed concern regarding recruitment processes – which they say have to be formalised and regulated better – and a number of other issues facing migrant workers, including Cambodians, in Malaysia.

“[There] is no comprehensive national policy on labour migration, to ensure . . . that abuses against workers, social dislocation, profiteering, human trafficking and modern day slavery are rooted out and stopped,” it reads.

Adrian Pereira, a coordinator for the North-South Initiative who was involved in the drafting of the paper, said in a message that the most urgent concern was that agreements between Cambodia and Malaysia and workers’ contracts should “guarantee basic rights of workers at all stages of recruitment to employment to return”. “Only when rights [are] in black and white can we ensure [they are] materialised and not based on ‘good will’ of any party.”

These rights include decent salaries, working hours, vacation days and more, he said.

Tan Heang-Lee, communications’ officer at Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, said that women were particularly vulnerable. “There must be greater recognition of domestic work as work, and of domestic workers as employees,” she said. “Migrant domestic workers are excluded from many of the protections and provisions of the Employment Act.”

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