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Tougher laws for recruiters

Cambodian fishermen arrive in Phnom Penh in April after being repatriated from East Timor
Cambodian fishermen arrive in Phnom Penh in April after being repatriated from East Timor, where they escaped from slave-like conditions aboard a Thai trawler. VIREAK MAI

Tougher laws for recruiters

A new set of prakases tacked onto a law that regulates overseas employment recruitment agencies is a “step in the right direction” towards protecting some of Cambodia’s most vulnerable citizens from scams and abuse, local and international NGOs said yesterday.

But some remain unconvinced that the laws will lead to stricter enforcement against recruitment agencies and overseas employers who have continued engaging in human trafficking, forced labour and a host of other human rights violations since the Ministry of Labour passed the original regulatory decree two years ago.

The prakases, dated September 23 and obtained yesterday, allow the ministry to inspect agencies, require that disputes be addressed within 10 days of complaints, and lay out more specific requirements for agencies.

In a statement released on Monday, the International Labour Organization commended the government’s new measures, lauding the legislation for its potential to “strengthen the existing protection mechanisms for migrant workers and set standards for private recruitment agencies, the recruitment process, and pre-departure orientation training”.

Recruitment firms routinely victimise Cambodian workers seeking employment opportunities or higher salaries abroad, alternately stealing their money and freedom.

Authorities last month arrested the director and marketing manager of recruiting firm You Can Win Co Ltd, which allegedly bilked thousands of clients out of money by charging $100 for false forms they claimed would permit them to work in South Korea. Meanwhile, stories of Cambodian maids and boat crews being subjected to beatings and captivity at the hands of their employers remain rampant.

Workers who are placed in a job abroad through a recruiter sometimes arrive to find hefty bills they owe the agency for questionable fees, said Moen Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center. Others find they have no recourse when placed with employers who withhold pay.

“There is no responsibility at all from the recruitment agencies to be responsible for the [workers],” Tola said. “The issue was happening in 2010, 2011, and continues happening now.”

Optimistic about how the new prakases might better safeguard workers from abuses, An Bunhak, president of Top Manpower Co Ltd and former head of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, yesterday said the prakases clarify the roles and responsibilities of workers, employers and recruitment agencies.

Clear definitions will cut down on predatory behaviour, said Bunhak, who was part of the assembly of rights NGOs and recruitment agency officials who assisted the Ministry of Labour in writing the legislation.

“Recruitment agencies need to follow their contracts,” said Bunhak, whose Top Manpower recruitment agency was accused last year by former clients of sending workers abroad with one-month visas when they had been promised two-year contracts. “[The prakases] provide clear jobs and rules between all the stakeholders.”

Current ACRA president Ung Seang Rithy could not be reached for comment.

But laws on the books do not necessarily translate to rules being followed, pointed out Huy Pich Sovann, CLEC’s program officer for labour unions.

On paper, Cambodia’s Labour Law is a solid piece of legislation, Pich Sovann argued. But when the monitors’ palms are greased by those being monitored, the law carries little weight.

“The prakases are good, but the practical implication will not work because of corruption,” Pich Sovann said yesterday. “Enforcement officers collude with recruitment agencies, so enforcement is very weak; there is no monitoring.”

Multiple officials at the Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment.

Whether the prakases help stymie the abuse of migrant workers remains to be seen, said David Welsh, country director for Solidarity Centre/ACILS.

But with an ever-increasing number of Cambodians seeking work outside the Kingdom, the Ministry of Labour must find a way to protect workers.

“They really do have to step up their game,” Welsh said.

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