Labor Ministry Denies Agreement to Send Workers to Qatar

A spokesman for the Labor Ministry said Thursday that Cambodia has still not finalized any agreement to send migrant workers to Qatar, but the head of a recruitment agency said the ministry had assured him he would be allowed to send about 80 workers there “as soon as possible.”

Heng Sour, the spokesman, said so far no companies had been given permission to send workers to the Middle Eastern country, which has received widespread criticism for the abuse of its more than 1.4 million laborers, many of whom work on construction projects for the 2022 football World Cup.

“There is no final agreement to send Cambodian workers to Qatar,” Mr. Sour said. “If anyone knows about people illegally being sent to Qatar, please tell us and we will charge them with human trafficking.”

The website of recruitment agency KCTC Manpower Supply, however, displays a copy of a letter of approval issued by the Labor Ministry and signed by Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng on August 22, 2014.

“I would like to inform Madame president of the company that the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training principally agrees to allow your company to recruit, train, send and manage Khmer laborers to go work in Arab countries (state of Qatar and state of Kuwait),” the letter says.

When asked about KCTC’s license, Mr. Sour said he was not aware of the document, or even the company.

Kierth Thavarath, managing director of KCTC, said he met with officials from the Labor Ministry’s labor department Wednesday who said the government would still allow him to send workers to Qatar once their documents are approved.

“They will allow us because they already issued the license,” he said. “We will try to get everything done as soon as possible and send them.”

He added that in one or two months, he expects to send about 80 laborers to work on World Cup construction projects for the Doha-based firm Tawasol Group Qatar.

Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Labor Ministry, said Seng Sakada and Hou Vuthy, director and deputy director, respectively, of the labor department, are responsible for issues related to Qatar.

Mr. Vuthy declined to comment Thursday and Mr. Sakada could not be reached.

Since successfully bidding in 2010 to host the World Cup, Qatar has been widely criticized for its labor laws, which tie an employee to their company and requires permission from the company before they are allowed to leave the country.

Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday that little has changed more than a year after Qatar promised reform.

“In some contexts, deception over work conditions and the situation in which migrant workers then find themselves can amount to human trafficking,” the report says.

(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)

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