Category Archives: Migration policy in Cambodia

We were scammed: workers

Pressure is building against a recruitment firm in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, as nearly 100 workers from different provinces travelled to the company’s offices yesterday to demand the recruiter pay back fees for jobs in Thailand that never materialised.

Tan Naven, chief of Teuk Thla commune, where the Koun Khmer Training Center is located, said the aggrieved workers came straight from the border with Thailand carrying only their luggage.

“Local authorities went to intervene to make the company find a solution for the workers,” said Navin, who claimed that the company has been in his commune for nearly a year, and that it is licensed with the Ministry of Labour.

Reports of problems with the centre began last week, when five workers repatriated from Thailand said they had relied on Koun Khmer’s services only to be rebuffed after crossing the border and sent back to Cambodia. Others were from a firm called R&T Co.

Although they allegedly paid between $300 and $400 each to the recruiters, the workers were told by Thai authorities that their visas were bogus. This larger group made similar claims.

Kheng Chan, a 30-year-old from Kampong Speu province, said he travelled to Thailand via the centre on August 18. When Chan crossed the border, he met 187 Cambodian workers who were stranded there without jobs – all from Koun Khmer. They were sent back on August 25, and made their way to the city.

“We came from different provinces to arrive in Phnom Penh,” he said.

Monitoring NGOs have claimed that unclear labour policies have translated into abuse and exploitation, but Koun Khmer said it is not in that business.

A representative of the company who declined to be named said it is negotiating with the workers and offering to pay for another round of travel, while guaranteeing employment this time. He claimed the original documents were legit.

“We cannot pay them back,” he said.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

By: Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post

Migrants Skipping Gov’t Plan for Thai Alternative

The number of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand has risen to 190,000 thanks to the new one-stop service centers set up across the border, Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor said Wednesday.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said about 190,000 migrant workers—some with a full complement of legal documents, others with partial paperwork and others with none—were in Thailand taking advantage of the centers.

“In general, they went to show up at the one-stop-service offices set up in Thai territory,” he said.

The Thai junta set up the centers along its border with Cambodia after some 250,000 mostly illegal Cambodian migrant workers fled the country for fear of arrests and violence at the hands of the new Thai military government.

Illegal migrant workers, as long as they have identification cards, can use the centers to get 60-day passes that let them stay in Thailand while they prepare the documentation they need to stay longer.

“They have 60 days to complete other documents to make them legal,” Mr. Suor said. “If they want to work in Thailand, they first must be patient and understand some legal procedures.”

The Thai option has attracted far more migrant workers than the system set up by the Cambodian government to send workers back to Thailand legally.

To help workers return to Thailand, the government in June reduced the price of passports for migrant laborers from $124 to $4.

But to qualify, workers must provide proof of employment from a Thai employer or a recruitment agency and then obtain certification from the Labor Ministry before applying for the subsidized passport.

As of last week, just 500 applications had reached the passport department.

Sok Phal, director of the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration, estimated about 100,000 migrant workers have returned to Thailand in the past two months. However, he could not specify whether the workers were returning with or without proper paperwork.

By: Hul Reaksmey, The Cambodia Daily

Cambodians start returning to Thailand after exodus

PHNOM PENH: Nearly 10,000 Cambodians have returned to jobs in Thailand after fleeing en masse last month, officials said on Tuesday, as the two countries agreed to make it easier for migrants to obtain work permits.

The exodus of more than 250,000 labourers fearful of a crackdown on undocumented workers under Thailand´s new junta has raised concerns about the impact on the kingdom´s migrant-dependent economy.

At a meeting in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and visiting Thai foreign ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow agreed to help “migrants to work legally” in Thailand.

“Cambodia has asked Thailand to issue visas for more than 10,000 migrants, most of whom have now returned to work there,” said Hor Namhong.Cambodian labourers help keep major Thai industries from seafood to construction afloat, but often lack official work permits.

A junta warning last month of arrest and deportation for those working illegally had prompted, by some estimates, the entire undocumented Cambodian population to flee Thailand.

Sihasak said it would now only take one day for Cambodian migrants to obtain a Thai visa following the establishment of worker registration centres along the Cambodian-Thai border.

In a parallel move to ease the process, Phnom Penh said last week that it would now cost only $49 for Cambodians to buy a passport, visa and other working documents to enter Thailand.

Border officials at the Cambodian town of Poipet, the main crossing between the two countries, said on Tuesday that around 1,000 workers had crossed back into Thailand every day since the weekend.

Thailand has almost no unemployment and depends upon neighbouring Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to fill manual labour vacancies.

Despite insisting there was no crackdown against Cambodian migrants, the junta was unable to stem the flow of workers across the border, with Thai businesses reporting feeling the pinch of a shrinking workforce within days of their flight.

On Tuesday Sihasak also stressed the importance Thailand placed upon its foreign labourers.

“Thailand needs to restore order and has noted that migrants have brought huge benefits to the Thai nation and helped boost its economy,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile Hor Namhong urged Thailand to release 14 Cambodians who were arrested last month for using illegal work documents.

Rumours of the shootings, abuse and arrests of migrants by Thai authorities were among the factors believed to have triggered the mass departures.Some Cambodian officials claimed workers were rounded up from construction sites in Thailand and sent back to Cambodia in trucks.

But Thailand has strongly denied forcibly expelling migrants and has dismissed reports of killings as “groundless”.

The coup in Thailand on May 22 followed years of political divisions between a military-backed royalist establishment and supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

By: The News International

Passport cost cut after crisis

After the rush of Cambodian migrant workers swelling over the border appeared to finally be subsiding last week, officials said the number started to spike again yesterday, attributing the rise to the announcement of $4 passports.

On Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a subdecree that will see the normal fee of $124 for passports reduced to just $4 for students and migrant workers.

The same day, the number of workers crossing back into Cambodia via the Poipet International Checkpoint declined to 2,421 – towards the lower end of the scale since the mass exodus of workers fleeing Thailand began two weeks ago, but still vastly higher than the 100-person norm before the crisis.

But on Saturday and Sunday, an increasing number of migrants poured into the small checkpoint again.

“I think they heard about the passport prakas,” Banteay Meanchey governor Korsum Saroeurt said. “Many people are saying that they want to come back, get their passport and visa, and return to their jobs in Thailand.”

More than 220,000 mostly undocumented Cambodian workers have come back from Thailand so far, most fleeing fears of an imminent junta-led crackdown. They left behind jobs mainly in construction and agriculture that paid twice as much as in Cambodia.

“Cheaper passports are good but won’t end the problems. The workers will still be exploited,” said Kem Ley, an independent political analyst. “[The government] reduced the cost of the passport, but they didn’t raise the wages of the civil servants responsible for processing the passport or patrolling the border.”

Last week, passport troubles led to 13 migrant workers who were trying to come back to Cambodia going to prison in Thailand instead.

“They were cheated by their ringleader,” said Moeung Mony, an official at the Cambodian-Thai border relations office in Poipet. He added that the workers were not aware that their visas were fake.

The workers are in detention in Thailand awaiting legal assistance from Cambodia, according to Neth Sary, Cambodian consul general in Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province.

On Friday, NGOs ADHOC and Human Rights Watch both urged the junta to improve treatment of migrant workers.

By: Cheang Sokha and Laignee Barron, Phnom Penh Post

Labor Ministry to Inspect Migrant Worker Recruitment Agencies, Cambodia Daily

The government today will begin strict inspections of agencies that recruit workers to send overseas, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said Tuesday.

The labor minister has previously threatened to suspend or revoke the licenses of agencies that do not comply with labor laws.

Speaking at a workshop designed to school the nation’s 43 registered labor recruitment agencies on laws that govern their firms, Mr. Sam Heng warned the agencies to follow closely eight new prakas, or ministerial directives, which came into effect late last year.

“I recommend to each agency, you must be well prepared, you must make your house stable, you must be a real agency, a real entity. It is not a joke…the government and ministry will hold you responsible if you cheat the workers,” Mr. Sam Heng said.

He said that after two warnings, “if the problems are not fixed we will move to the cancellation of licenses.”

The legislation, called Sending Workers Abroad Through Private Recruitment Agencies, is designed to hold recruitment agencies accountable for the training and treatment of migrant workers and to introduce a complaint mechanism for workers to use while living overseas.

In the past, migrant workers have been seduced by dishonest brokers with false promises and then left at the mercy of employers once they arrive at their overseas destinations. In 2011, following a raft of reports of serious abuses by employers in Malaysia, Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the sending of domestic workers there.

“Previously, some agencies just rent two apartments and put 60 or 70 workers inside—it’s not a training center but a detention center,” Mr. Sam Heng said. “We will not let it happen again.”

Rim Khleang, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization (ILO), which helped draft the new directives, said Tuesday that the ILO has no role in inspections.

“The checklist for the inspections is not clear to us, but I understand that they will be in line with exactly what is in the prakas,” Mr. Khleang said. He referred further questions to Max Tunon, the ILO’s senior project coordinator, who could not be reached.

The Labor Ministry also declined to give further insight into exactly what aspects of recruitment agencies will be scrutinized during government inspections.

Ravi Chandran, manager of Unicorn, a Malaysian-owned recruitment agency, said he hopes the current ban on sending Cambodian maids to Malaysia will be lifted. He expressed doubt that the directives will properly ensure workers’ rights.

“We are a legitimate company that takes the straight line and treats workers appropriately but we always end up the loser,” Mr. Chandran said.

“As we know, in Cambodia, everything can be bought. None of the local agencies will fail the inspection—they know how to do business.”

By Matt Blomberg, Cambodia Daily

Published on 26 March 2014


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