Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Saudis sign MoU on maids

Saudis sign MoU on maids

Labour Minister Ith Samheng (left) and Saudi counterpart Mufrej Al-Haqbani signed the MoU. Photo supplied
Labour Minister Ith Samheng (left) and Saudi counterpart Mufrej Al-Haqbani signed the MoU. Photo supplied

Saudis sign MoU on maids

Cambodia and Saudi Arabia on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding to begin work on opening a pipeline for Cambodians to work in the gulf nation, which has been routinely criticised for failing to protect migrant domestic workers from abysmal treatment and slave-like conditions.

The Cooperation Agreement on the Recruitment of Domestic Workers and General Workers was signed by the two countries’ labour ministries on Thursday, Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour confirmed yesterday.

Photos posted on social media, show Cambodia Labour Minister Ith Samheng and his Saudi counterpart, Mufrej Al-Haqbani, at the signing ceremony in Riyadh.

“This agreement will bring benefit both countries’ labour sectors,” Samheng posted on Facebook on February 10.

“Our Cambodian people will have the opportunity to consider working there. The MoU will create legal rights protection for workers following national and international standards.”

The MoU, which has been in the works since 2014, is the first step in creating a legal avenue for Cambodian migrants to work in Saudi Arabia, where human rights groups have documented numerous cases of abuse of domestic workers from developing countries, including slave-like conditions, torture and killings.

In October, India lodged a formal complaint with Saudi Arabia after one of its citizens working as a maid there had her arm cut off by her employer.

“This is bad news,” Moeun Tola, executive director of Central (Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights), said yesterday.

“It’s concerning … in Cambodia, we have enough experience of sending maids to Malaysia without proper mechanisms or transparent management, and then we repeat the issue with Singapore … Saudi Arabia is much worse than Malaysia or Singapore, we need to be very careful.”

In December, Cambodia signed an agreement to resume the legal flow of domestic workers to Malaysia, putting an end to a four-year ban introduced amid reports of serious migrant abuses, which had led to multiple deaths.

Many Cambodian families are dependent on money from relatives working abroad, with the World Bank estimating Cambodia’s total remittances doubled to $731 million last year.

With Cambodians already travelling to the Gulf state to work illegally, William Conklin, from labour rights group the Solidarity Centre, said it was better to regulate the process, though he added that “one would hope they’re not promoting workers to go to Saudi Arabia given its track record”.

“A lot of work needs to be done, especially by the Foreign Ministry, for the government to figure out who will look after Cambodian workers when they get in trouble – not if, but when they get in trouble in Saudi Arabia,” Conklin said, noting that Cambodia has no embassy in the country.

Cambodia’s embassy in Kuwait is currently working to repatriate Him Srey, a 39-year-old domestic worker from Cambodia’s Muslim Cham minority, who said she had toiled for her Saudi employer with little food for a fraction of her promised salary.

Sour, of the Labor Ministry, has previously told the Post that no workers would be sent to Saudi Arabia until a bilateral agreement detailing safeguards had been signed.

MOST VIEWED

  • Draft law on state of emergency pending finalisation

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a top-level meeting on Tuesdays to review the draft law on imposing a state of emergency. Meantime, he has decided to close all casinos in Cambodia effective April 1. In the press conference after the National Assembly met today, Hun

  • State of emergency on table amid pandemic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, his deputy prime ministers and legal team will meet on Tuesday to review the draft law on declaring a state of emergency, as Covid-19 cases rose to 107 in the Kingdom on Monday. Speaking at a press conference after a parliament meeting

  • No word on state of emergency

    The National Assembly (NA) said it will postpone all unnecessary meetings in line with guidance from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it did not say when or how it will debate the “state of emergency”

  • Many in limbo as tension heightens

    As the Kingdom restricts travel and prepares for a state of emergency, some foreigners in Cambodia are scrambling for a way home. Foreign embassies in Phnom Penh are making efforts to get their citizens out, but cancelled flights have become common due to the coronavirus

  • State of emergency draft law set for NA

    A draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is set for a debate at the National Assembly (NA) after going through the Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee meeting led by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.

  • Hun Sen, ministers, officials donate salaries in virus fight

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials have decided to donate their salaries to the National Committee for Combating Covid-19 in support of the ongoing battle against the coronavirus. Hun Sen announced in an April 1 letter that because the Covid-19 situation in Cambodia