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Migrants still lacking access to justice: ILO

A truck packed with Cambodian migrant workers arrives at the Poipet border after they were deported by Thai authorities last month.
A truck packed with Cambodian migrant workers arrives at the Poipet border after they were deported by Thai authorities last month. Sahiba Chawdhary

Migrants still lacking access to justice: ILO

Cambodians who leave the country for work overseas still often lack effective access to the country’s justice system when they have problems with recruitment agencies, despite some recent improvements, a new report from the International Labour Organization says.

Despite the creation of a complaints process that has managed to resolve the largest number of complaints in Cambodia – about 500 in the 18-month period ending in May 2015 – the report says that migrant workers are continuing to suffer from exploitative practices from recruiters and have limited access to legal redress.

“In countries of origin, only blatant violations of migrants’ rights are typically rectified, such as collecting recruitment and documentation fees for nonexistent jobs,” the report says. “Other forms of abuse that are known to be widespread, including overcharging migrant workers on recruitment fees and misrepresenting the terms of employment, continue to go unchallenged.”

In Cambodia, in particular, it says, there is often a gap between compensation sought and compensation received when issues arise and are prosecuted, as well as an “insufficient capacity” at offices handling complaints and a “lack of resources at diplomatic missions”.

A representative figure in the report shows the most frequently received complaints in Cambodia. ILO
A representative figure in the report shows the most frequently received complaints in Cambodia. ILO

It says most complaints in Cambodia concern delays in deployments to jobs, or the job not materialising at all, passports not being given to workers, disputes over compensation, missing persons (some of which relate to disappearances in the Thai fishing industry and Malay domestic work sector) and nonpayment or underpayment of wages.

Mom Sokchar, programme manager at Legal Support for Children and Women, said that a lack of knowledge concerning the mechanisms and the small number of offices dealing with complaints often prevented migrant workers from filing complaints in the first place.

Another major concern, he said, was the lack of assistance abroad.

“In some countries there are thousands of migrant workers. The embassy does not have enough staff to work on the cases,” Sokchar said.

Kao Poeun, project coordinator of Informal Democratic Economy Association, said yesterday that the Cambodian Embassy in Malaysia had proved unhelpful in many cases when migrant workers had reached out to seek help.

“Sometimes we complained . . . but the embassy just says they have too few staff,” Poeun said. “Sometimes there is simply no response when we contact them via phone, WhatsApp, email.”

“If workers run to the embassy, there’s a response. But if it’s in relation to a rights complaint, I have not seen any response yet.”

Migrant workers wait at Poipet’s international border checkpoint in 2014 before crossing into Thailand
Migrant workers wait at Poipet’s international border checkpoint in 2014 before crossing into Thailand. Hong Menea

Veth Vorn, ILO national project coordinator for Cambodia, said cases of mistreatment of migrant workers could be reduced if criminal charges were imposed on recruiters who breached the law, instead of only administrative sanctions and compensations for workers.

Spokespeople for the ministries of labour and foreign affairs could not be reached yesterday.

However, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a press release last week that claims that Cambodia’s foreign embassies had failed to assist migrant workers had “no ground to stand on”.

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