Labor Ministry Mulls Sending 5,000 workers a Month to Saudi Arabia

The Labor Ministry is examining a draft Memorandum of Understanding from the Saudi Arabian government that calls for 5,000 Cambodians to be sent to work in the Middle Eastern kingdom per month, ministry officials said yesterday.

The memorandum will undergo changes and be sent back this week for consideration by Saudi Arabia, according to Secretary of State Othsman Hassan. Mr Hassan said that the ministry and a Saudi delegation sent earlier this month to find a local medical facility capable of screening workers had decided to use the ministry’s own clinic, but had not yet chosen a bank to facilitate the flow of remittances.

“The first step is to send two hundred to five hundred drivers or maids a month. Then next year we can send the total amount of people,” said Mr Hassan, adding that he was not concerned about Saudi Arabia’s record of treating foreign workers poorly.

Saudi Arabia this month was placed in the third tier of the US State Department’s human trafficking rankings–meaning that Saudi authorities are making no significant efforts to comply with minimum standards for protection–while Cambodia was promoted to the second tier.

“The government is finding jobs, but they need to closely examine labor laws and the legal protections of migrant laborers,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center.

The government has shown little will or ability to stop the harassment of laborers working in Malaysia in recent years, Mr Tola said.

According to Bruno Maltoni, project coordinator at the International Organization for Migration, a pilot program that sent 34 women to Saudi Arabia in 2005 was ended because Cambodia did not have a diplomatic presence in the region and could not effectively monitor the conditions of its workers.

“The 34 women sent to Saudi Arabia were eventually recalled and the idea became to send workers again when there was an embassy nearby,” said Mr Maltoni.

Cambodia and Kuwait announced their intentions to open embassies in 2008 after the Kuwaiti government provided a $500 million loan for the construction of a hydroelectric dam in Kompong Thom province.

Labor Ministry officials said yesterday they are also negotiating a labor memorandum with the government of Kuwait.



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