Doubts Over New Directives on Migrant Labor

The Labor Ministry this week issued eight new directives to regulate the process of sending Cambodians abroad for work, but doubts remain as to how effective they will be in protecting migrant workers.

The new directives standardize contracts and training for migrant workers and offer formal channels for abused workers to lodge complaints, but do not fully ensure workers are protected, said Sim Hong, deputy director of the department of labor and manpower at the Labor Ministry.

“If we wish to stop all the problems with migrant workers…it is not enough,” Mr. Hong said at a workshop on migration and domestic workers, adding that the ministry was working with the U.N. on another eight directives.

The new directives and Sub-Decree 190 seek to regulate migrant labor recruitment agencies that have been the subject of allegations of serious abuse in the past.

Though the directives require that recruitment agencies put up a $100,000 surety, the agencies offer little protection to workers once they reach their destination country.

In October 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen suspended the sending of Cambodian women to work as maids in Malaysia after a spate of reports of physical abuse and exploitation of the migrant workers at the hands of their foreign employers and the recruitment agencies in Cambodia.

In November, the Cambodian and Malaysian governments agreed to end the moratorium by February.

Jenna Holliday, strategic planning and communications specialist at U.N. Women, on Wednesday called on Cambodia to ratify a pair of U.N. conventions—called Decent Work for Domestic Workers and Protection of all Migrant Workers and Their Families—in order to send a message to countries receiving Cambodian workers.

“It is a very strong statement when a government says ‘this is how we treat our workers and we expect you to treat them the same,’” she said.

“If Cambodia were to join the other core sending countries—Indonesia, Bangladesh and Philippines—and ratify, it would give them some kind of power to demand better treatment [of their workers overseas],” Ms. Holliday said.

“The new prakas [directives] don’t do anything to put pressure on other countries [to treat migrant workers appropriately],” she said.

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