Following repeated reports of abuse and illegal activity, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday ordered recruitment agencies to indefinitely stop sending Cambodian domestic workers to Malaysia, officials said Friday.
Secretary of State for the Labor Ministry Oum Mean said that he had received unofficial information about the order.
“I’ve just received unofficial information about this [suspension]” Mr Mean said. “It is the upper level leaders’ decision, so we are at a level to implement the order from above.”
The president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), An Bunhak, who is also the chairman and CEO of Top Manpower Co Ltd, said he had been informed by the Ministry of Labor that Mr Hun Sen had issued a verbal order to stop sending the workers.
“I have been informed by the general department of labor that the Prime Minister gave a verbal order to suspend the sending of Cambodian maids to work in Malaysia,” said Mr Bunhak, adding that recruitment agencies are awaiting new regulations from the Ministry of Labor concerning protection mechanisms for Cambodian maids.
Last month, two Cambodian women working as domestic servants in Malaysia died in the care of their employers, and in a separate case, four people involved with a raid on T&P recruitment agency in Kompong Chhnang province last weekend were charged on Tuesday with illegal confinement, forgery and human trafficking.
The sudden suspension order would affect 6,000 to 7,000 workers who are due to leave for Malaysia, Mr Bunhak said.
“I don’t yet know how long the suspension will last, but it will have an impact on recruitment agencies,” said Mr Bunhak, adding that many agencies had spent a lot of money on pre-departure administration and training fees.
Mr Bunhak also said that ACRA representatives are due to meet with Malaysian counterparts, the International Labor Organization, the Ministry of Labor and other civil society groups “very soon” to decide on “the best protection mechanisms” for domestic workers.
“Everything will be fine once we have better management and safeguards,” said Mr Bunhak
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, former Minster of Women’s Affairs, said that she had raised the issue of the continuing abuses on Cambodian maids working in Malaysia with Mr Hun Sen on Friday during a break at the National Assembly.
“[The Prime Minister] spoke honestly to me that he understood and agreed that my suggestions were correct about the abuses maids have suffered,” said Ms Sochua, who has repeatedly called for a freeze on sending maids to Malaysia until protection mechanisms were in place.
“He has seriously considered this matter and believes it is a dangerous issue, which is why he has ordered the Labor Ministry to stop the sending of Cambodian maids to work in Malaysia,” Ms Sochua added.
“I don’t know whether the government will decide on a temporary postponement or a permanent suspension, but it will not be a successful accomplishment until the wrongdoing brokers and owners of offending agencies face a penalty,” Ms Sochua said.
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said that he welcomed the suspension, but that discussions now needed to take place between the Cambodian and Malaysian governments to ensure better working conditions could be guaranteed.
“I welcome the action of the Prime Minister, it is the right step, but the government needs to now discuss this seriously with Malaysia and get an agreement in place before resending maids,” said Mr Tola.
(Additional reporting by Alice Burke)