Legal Passage to Malaysia for Maids Still Some Months Away

Although Cambodia signed off on a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Malaysia on Thursday that will once again allow the country to send domestic workers to its Asean neighbor, a Labor Ministry spokesman said it will not take effect for months.

Prime Minister Hun Sen personally outlawed the trade in 2011 amid mounting reports that local recruitment agencies were taking advantage of the prospective maids, many of which suffered physical abuse at the hands of their employers in Malaysia.

On Thursday, the Labor Ministry announced that after two years of negotiations, an MoU ending the ban had been signed. On Sunday, however, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng’s cabinet chief, Heng Suor, said the work was not over just yet.

“The two sides agreed to convene the task force in January, and then the technical working group in February” to work out the details of an implementation plan, he said.

Once that was done, he added, Mr. Sam Heng’s Malaysian counterpart would travel to Cambodia in late February or early March to make the plan official, at which point the MoU would take effect.

The talks actually involve two agreements—one for domestic workers and another for laborers in other sectors.

Mr. Suor declined to share a copy of either.

But he said Malaysia and Cambodia have agreed to work together more closely to track new maids, with the help of an online database. He also said the two countries had set up a better system for sharing information when either nation receives a report of a missing person.

The spokesman said that although a specific reference to the protection of the workers’ human rights, which appeared in an earlier draft of the MoU, was not in the final agreement, more specific references to workers’ rights were included.

Tun Sophorn, national coordinator for the International Labor Organization, which has been advising the Cambodian government on the MoUs, said on Sunday that he had not seen the final version.

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