Press Release: Mekong Migration Network Convenes Multi-stakeholder Meeting to Discuss Challenges Arising From Labour Migration from Cambodia to Japan

21 February 2019

MMN Press Release: Mekong Migration Network Convenes Multi-stakeholder Meeting to Discuss Challenges Arising From Labour Migration from Cambodia to Japan

On 18 February 2019, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) held a multi-stakeholder meeting on labour migration from Cambodia to Japan. The meeting was convened in anticipation to changes in Japanese immigration law which will enter into force in April 2019. The new law will create a new migration pathway for Cambodians who are considered “specified skilled workers”. Along with the Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), the new immigration law is intended to attract foreign workers to fill gaps in Japan’s labour market created by rapidly ageing population. Direct hiring of foreign workers and change of employers within the same sector will now be allowed under the new migration pathway. Cambodia is considered by Japan to be a key source of migrant workers and is reported to be one of eight Asian countries in which a bilateral agreement on managing labour migration will be put in place.

Over 50 participants exchanged views at the event, including representatives of the Cambodian government, civil society organisations, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), Manpower Association of Cambodia (MAC) and private recruitment agencies, and academic experts on Japanese migration.

In a keynote speech delivered by Her Excellency, Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Permanent Vice President of the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking (NCCT), Royal Government of Cambodia expressed concerns that the direct hiring process may still not prevent unscrupulous brokers from cheating workers. She called for more robust regulation of direct hiring procedures and clarification on the roles of recruitment agencies. She remarked, “The workers’ hopes are also the government’s hope…we want to see fair migration, good departure training, and happy returnees; we want to see workers being safe and free from exploitation and cheating.”

Representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training shared similar concerns about the continued exploitation of workers by unlicensed brokers. They reported that the government is currently negotiating with Japan for a new Memorandum of Cooperation that will allow Cambodian workers to migrate more safely through the migration pathway. This will likely conclude in March 2019.

Associate Professor Asato Wako from Kyoto University noted that under the new immigration policy, Japan now officially recognises incoming migrant workers as “workers”. However, he stated that though direct hiring sounds good on paper, in practice, workers do not have comprehensive information, and therefore cannot make informed decision. Unless appropriate measures are taken to regulate recruitment fees and prevent unscrupulous brokers, it will not prevent deception, abuse or trafficking. Professor Asato also highlighted the confusion that remains over how the new visa category is related to other existing and already complicated migration pathways to Japan. He called for greater transparency in the system.

Currently, there are already around 9,000 Cambodian migrants working in Japan under the TITP, a number expected to rapidly rise. Participants discussed possible causes for a number of Cambodian migrants leaving their jobs in Japan without completing their contracts. These may include high recruitment fees resulting in workers being indebted. There is currently no standard recruitment fee in Cambodia. Another factor may be poor labour conditions in Japan. An earlier report by the Japanese government revealed that 70% of employers who hire TITP workers engaged in rights-violating practices. Despite this, migrants are often vilified for leaving their jobs and labeled “runaways”. Ms Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator, urged stakeholders to refrain from using such loaded derogatory term when referring to migrant workers.

Finally, participants called for the Japanese and Cambodian governments as well as Cambodian private recruitment agencies to play a more active role in monitoring workers’ labour conditions. Suggestions were also raised for the Cambodian government and private recruitment agencies to develop better pre-departure training that informs workers about existing channels of overseas assistance in the event that they encounter exploitation and abuse.

ABOUT THE MEKONG MIGRATION NETWORK

The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of CSOs and research institutes that has been working towards the protection and promotion of migrants’ rights in the Mekong Sub-region since 2001. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination and have unique expertise in the field and close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. MMN also has regular dialogue with government stakeholders in the Mekong Sub-region. In 2017, MMN published a report “Safe from Start: Roles of Countries of Origin” in which it calls for more pro-active action by the countries of origin in protecting migrants’ rights. For more information about MMN, please visit our webpage at: www.mekongmigration.org.

CONTACT INFORMATION

For more information about the consultation meeting, please contact the following:

Ms. Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator, at reiko@mekongmigration.org (English or Japanese)

Mr. Sokchar Mom, Executive Director of the LSCW, at sokchar_mom@lscw.org  or by phone on 012943767 (English or Khmer)

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