The Labor Ministry has released an updated list of recruitment agencies allowed to send Cambodians to work in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand in hopes of preventing potential migrants from being duped by unlicensed companies that might put them in danger.
The list includes at least two agencies owned by the relatives of senior government officials that were selected to participate in a pilot maids program with Singapore some years ago. That program ended amid allegations of abuse and debt bondage.
The new list also comes amid reports that Cambodia has lifted a six-year ban on sending maids to Malaysia.
Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not answer his telephone on Tuesday or respond to repeated requests for comment by text message.
The updated list, dated May 29, names 77 companies and indicates whether they are allowed to send workers to Japan, Malaysia or Thailand, some of the most popular destinations for Cambodia’s migrant workers.
But the list does not include some other popular destinations, including South Korea, or Hong Kong, which struck a deal with Cambodia for its maids in April.
Among the approved recruitment agencies is Philimore Cambodia, which is licensed to send workers to all three countries on the list.
The owner, Sok Chanpheakdey, said on Tuesday that agencies were invited to apply for permission to start sending maids to Malaysia within the past few weeks, though he had not seen it in writing.
“The ministry has advised that applications can now be submitted,” he said. “I have not received a written directive, but in general, according to the ministry’s announcement, we can apply now.”
Late last month, Malaysian media also reported that the ban had been lifted, citing the country’s human resources minister, Ricardo Riot Jaem. The Labor Ministry’s Mr. Sour, however, said at the time that the prohibition was still in place.
The list of approved companies includes Sok Leap Metrey—a company owned by the daughter of Seng Sakada, director of the Labor Ministry’s labor department—and the Ung Rithy Group, a company owned by the sister of General Sok Phal, who runs the Interior Ministry’s immigration department.
Both companies were selected to participate in the failed pilot maids program with Singapore in 2013. Ung Rithy Group has been criticized for its recruitment and training practices, and dozens of returned maids complained to human rights groups of serious abuses.
Labor rights groups say the industry’s ties to government officials have stymied efforts at reform.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)