Category Archives: Migration policy in Cambodia

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


Sharp dip in legal emigration, Phnom Penh Post

The Ministry of Labor on Tuesday announced that the number of workers leaving Cambodia for jobs abroad dropped by more than a third in 2013 compared to the year before, but experts warned yesterday that the ministry’s figures did not represent the broader emigration picture.

While the ministry’s data shows that the total number of Cambodian migrant workers abroad in 2013 was 22,300 – down 36 per cent from 34,804 in 2012 – the figures leave out the vast number of illegal Cambodian immigrants who have sought work abroad, estimated in 2012 to number 160,000 in Thailand alone.

Hou Vuthy, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Labor, said that though illegal emigration still occurs, other factors are also at play.

“As I have asked and examined from border officials, Cambodian workers still illegally cross to work in bordering countries,” he said.

But, he added, it is also likely that the dip in legal emigration figures could be attributed to workers simply finding better jobs at home last year.

The roughly 8,800 workers in South Korea represented a slight rise over 2012, but it was the massive decline in legal workers in Thailand – down to 13,168 in 2013, compared to more than 26,300 in 2012 – that accounts for 2013’s entire drop in legal workers abroad.

Last year’s decline coincided with new Thai regulations that require Cambodian migrants seeking to work there to complete an official registration process or face deportation.

At the time, critics argued that the proposition was expensive – even with Thailand’s attractive 9,000-baht ($274) monthly minimum wage – and corrupt, and would ultimately have the effect of forcing immigration underground, a prediction that appears to have been borne out, according to labour migration expert Andy Hall.

“The legal entry channels . . . are out of control, completely unregulated, expensive, not transparent and slow. Workers are at risk of falling into situations of debt bondage and even being trafficked through [these] formal channels,” he said yesterday, via email.

“I doubt there has been any decrease in actual number of workers from Cambodia to Thailand, but just [a] decrease in using formal channels . . . Of course the informal channels are also as risky, if not more so, than the formal channels because of deceptive brokers, trafficking,” he added.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, also maintained that legal emigration had simply been supplanted by illegal emigration “because they think that it’s easier to avoid the documents and spend less”.

Pich Vanna, director of the Cambodian-Thai border relations office, said that Cambodians seeking to illegally emigrate often take up residence along the border until the time is right to cross.

“That’s why it’s difficult to arrest them or stop them, [and] why most Cambodian workers work there illegally,” he said.

By Sen David, Phnom Penh Post

Published on 16 January 2014.

Maid scheme off to ‘slow start’, Phnom Penh Post

A pilot scheme sending 400 Cambodian maids to Singapore has made a spluttering start, according to local media reports, with agencies in Singapore reportedly growing frustrated at the slow pace of maid arrivals and “sceptical” about the reliability of Cambodia as a source.

Only about 100 Cambodian maids have arrived in Singapore since September, Singapore’s Straits Times reported yesterday, with agents having to turn would-be employers away as they could not guarantee the workers would arrive by a certain time.

The two-year pilot program aims to test whether Cambodian domestic workers are suitable for Singapore’s large foreign domestic worker market. If successful, it could see the Kingdom approved as an official source country.

Lao Lyhock, managing director at Philimore Cambodia, one of three local agencies taking part in the pilot program, said his agency had thus far sent 30 workers, with another 40 undergoing training.

He admitted that Singapore agents had been pressuring him to speed up supply due to high demand, but said it was impossible due to a lack of awareness about the scheme and the need for extensive training.

“Because this is a pilot scheme, if we [send] the best, we can show the government that [our workers] are good and professional,” he said, adding that floods, religious holidays and the post-election situation had affected recruitment.

“Now I think it’s fine. This month and next month there should be more recruitment.”

But Mom Sokchar, program officer at NGO Legal Support for Children and Women, said he believed that burdensome $1,900 placement fees – paid off by deducting workers’ salaries for their first six months of employment – were turning people away.

“The fee is really high.… If we learn from the experience in Malaysia, a high service fee puts many female migrant workers in a bad situation,” he said. Sokchar added the terrible abuse suffered by some Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia meant that people were now more reluctant to go abroad for domestic work.

Lyhock acknowledged the placement fee was a barrier, but said if the pilot goes well and Cambodia is recognised as a source country, agents expect to lower the fees significantly.

“Everyone wants it for free but how can [it be] free … because of the pilot our expenses are high,” he said.

Hou Vudthy, undersecretary of state at the Labour Ministry, said he was not aware of the delay and referred further questions to a spokesman who could not be reached.

By Kevin Monniah, The Phnom Penh Post

Published on 9 December 2013

‘New deal’ eyed for migrant workers, Phnom Penh Post

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call on Tuesday to strengthen cooperation among ASEAN members to protect the rights of migrant workers echoed recent comments by rights groups who say further protections are necessary as the 2015 deadline for an integrated economic community looms.As that deadline approaches, an increase in regional labour flows has been accompanied by a steady stream of reports regarding large-scale human trafficking from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia into Thailand, and the abuse of Cambodian and Indonesian maids in Malaysia.

Sinapan Samydorai, president of NGO Think Centre and convener of a Singapore-based task force on ASEAN migrant workers, said a “new deal” is needed in which the rights of workers are enforced, laws and policies harmonised with international labour standards and social protections assured for workers and their families.

“ASEAN aims to evolve into an integrated economic community by 2015, but the challenge is to draft and agree to a legally binding ASEAN Framework Instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of migrant workers,” he added.

Assistant director of the ASEAN Social Welfare, Women, Labour and Migrant Workers division Mega Irena said the development of just such an instrument was “ongoing”.

At last year’s summit in Bali, leaders had tasked labour ministers to continue their work to implement the declaration, including a “phased approach in the development of the instrument, starting by focusing on issues which are comfortable to all ASEAN member states”, she said.

According to Irena, the 2007 Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of Migrant Workers “mandates ASEAN countries to promote fair and appropriate employment protection, payment of wages and adequate access to decent working and living conditions for migrant workers”.

It states that the obligations of sending and receiving states, as well as the commitment of ASEAN member countries.

Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Thailand receive more labour than they send, while the reverse is true for Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, according to the findings of the 2011 ADBI-OECD Conference on Labour Migration.

Bruno Maltoni, project coordinator at the International Organisation for Migration, said the declaration was a milestone.

“It is quite interesting to see migration slowly becoming a key item in the ASEAN agenda,” he said.

ASEAN would be increasingly involved as a regional body in supervising migration, he added.

“A few years ago, the negotiations and bilateral agreements were mostly on a one-to-one basis; in the future, ASEAN will probably be more involved on regional frameworks in order to guarantee an improvement of the labour migration management,” he said.

But other actors said ASEAN was moving too slowly to protect workers.

Advocacy officer of the Cambodian Working Group for Domestic Workers Natalie Drolet called the declaration “just a piece of paper that has not been put into practice”, as a framework had not been adopted to implement protections for workers.

This was a need that was becoming increasingly urgent as the establishment of the economic community would mean an increase in intra-regional migration, she said.

The possibility of trafficking and labour exploitation in the absence of proper protections was another concern raised by rights groups.

Samydorai said employment opportunities abroad were pushing governments to seek bilateral or regional agreements that would see more employed in neighbouring countries.

But the high costs and complex policies involved for job-seekers often forced many to become undocumented migrant workers vulnerable to abuse, he added.

By Cassandra Yeap
Published on 5 April 2012

Migrant workers say firms lied about visas, Phnom Penh Post

A group of 20 Cambodian migrant workers have said they fled Thailand fearing arrest because recruitment firms sent them abroad with one-month visas when they had been promised two-year contracts.

Representatives of the workers, who returned on Friday night, said they were sent to a battery factory by Top Manpower – which is owned by the president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, An Bunhak – and another company they could not identify.

Ang Khun Ly, a worker from Kandal province, said he had paid US$300 to Top Manpower for the passport, which he was told would last two years, only to discover it was invalid after just one month of work.

“When I worked there, the company in Thailand needed to control my passport. They said that our passport were only valid for a one-month period. If we continue to work, we would be arrested. We were afraid of being arrested, so we came back,” he said.

Reached via email, An Bunhak yesterday denied his company had cheated anyone and said he would pursue legal action against those falsely accusing Top Manpower of wrongdoing.

“TOP Manpower has never sent workers to work so-called battery factory in Thailand. I would like request all workers who was abused or cheat to fill a complaint then we can find out who use our name,” the email read.

Hom Mut, a military chief in Beanteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town, said he was investigating the claims of the workers, who had all returned through the border town.

“They really came back from Thailand at Poipet border. They were in a panic but they have not yet filed a complaint to the military police,” he said.

By Sen David with additional reporting by David Boyle
Published 20 February 2012

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