Almost six years after Cambodian maids were banned from working in Malaysia, the Labor Ministry says it is speeding up work to finalize a long-delayed plan to lift the restriction and hopes to have details worked out by the end of the month.
Cambodia and Malaysia agreed in principle to end the ban in December 2015, but they have been wrangling over the fine print ever since.
The government ordered the ban in 2011 amid numerous reports maids were being abused by both the local recruitment agencies sending them to Malaysia and the households they were being placed with.
In a statement on Friday, the ministry said Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng and Malaysia’s human resources minister, Ricardo Riot Anak Jaem, agreed to bring negotiations to a close by month’s end during a meeting on Thursday in Phnom Penh.
“Both parties agreed to en- courage technical working groups of both countries to finalize all remaining issues at their third meeting to be held by the end of May,” it says.
The statement does not explain which parts of the deal are still under discussion. But it says Malaysia has agreed to legalize any Cambodians currently working illegally as maids in Malaysia. Despite the ban, Cambodians have continued going to Malaysia seeking domestic work.
Mr. Sam Heng and his spokesman, Heng Sour, could not be reached yesterday.
It remains to be seen whether the new deadline will be met. Since 2015, the Labor Ministry has repeatedly said it was within weeks of announcing a final deal only to fall silent.
In the lead-up to the ban, women’s and rights groups had accused local recruitment agencies of trapping their clients in debt bondage. Maids returned from Malaysia with claims of unpaid wages and physical abuse.
The government has provided no details about what safeguards they are working on to protect future workers.
Labor rights groups say they have seen no signs of any new regulations and remain worried that the family ties between some of the recruitment agencies and top labor and immigration officials will make real reform next to impossible.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)