Labor Ministry to Inspect Migrant Worker Recruitment Agencies

The government today will begin strict inspections of agencies that recruit workers to send overseas, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said Tuesday.

The labor minister has previously threatened to suspend or revoke the licenses of agencies that do not comply with labor laws.

Speaking at a workshop designed to school the nation’s 43 registered labor recruitment agencies on laws that govern their firms, Mr. Sam Heng warned the agencies to follow closely eight new prakas, or ministerial directives, which came into effect late last year.

“I recommend to each agency, you must be well prepared, you must make your house stable, you must be a real agency, a real entity. It is not a joke…the government and ministry will hold you responsible if you cheat the workers,” Mr. Sam Heng said.

He said that after two warnings, “if the problems are not fixed we will move to the cancellation of licenses.”

The legislation, called Sending Workers Abroad Through Private Recruitment Agencies, is designed to hold recruitment agencies accountable for the training and treatment of migrant workers and to introduce a complaint mechanism for workers to use while living overseas.

In the past, migrant workers have been seduced by dishonest brokers with false promises and then left at the mercy of employers once they arrive at their overseas destinations. In 2011, following a raft of reports of serious abuses by employers in Malaysia, Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the sending of domestic workers there.

“Previously, some agencies just rent two apartments and put 60 or 70 workers inside—it’s not a training center but a detention center,” Mr. Sam Heng said. “We will not let it happen again.”

Rim Khleang, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization (ILO), which helped draft the new directives, said Tuesday that the ILO has no role in inspections.

“The checklist for the inspections is not clear to us, but I understand that they will be in line with exactly what is in the prakas,” Mr. Khleang said. He referred further questions to Max Tunon, the ILO’s senior project coordinator, who could not be reached.

The Labor Ministry also declined to give further insight into exactly what aspects of recruitment agencies will be scrutinized during government inspections.

Ravi Chandran, manager of Unicorn, a Malaysian-owned recruitment agency, said he hopes the current ban on sending Cambodian maids to Malaysia will be lifted. He expressed doubt that the directives will properly ensure workers’ rights.

“We are a legitimate company that takes the straight line and treats workers appropriately but we always end up the loser,” Mr. Chandran said.

“As we know, in Cambodia, everything can be bought. None of the local agencies will fail the inspection—they know how to do business.”

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