Despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s indefinite ban on sending Cambodian maids to Malaysia, two recruitment agencies continued to send maids there yesterday, according to rights group Licadho.
A Ministry of Labor official was unable to say if the recruits’ departure had violated the government order, but he suggested that authorities would still allow more recruits to leave Cambodia despite the ban.
Following repeated reports this year of severe abuse and exploitation of migrant workers by Malaysian employers and Cambodian recruitment agencies, Mr Hun Sen verbally ordered the ban Friday.
The prime minister then on Saturday signed the ban into an order that stated “from now on recruiting, training and sending of women to work as maids in Malaysia is temporarily suspended” until further notice.
Nonetheless, recruitment agency Top Manpower put seven recruits on Air Asia flight AK 273 to Kuala Lumpur yesterday morning, while IIS Co Ltd put 18 women on board the flight, according to Licadho, whose staff talked to the workers at Phnom Penh International Airport.
Staff from the two agencies reportedly told Licadho that recruits who were in training programs were exempt from the ban, as they had already signed contracts.
Licadho director Naly Pilorge said in a statement that the agencies had openly disregarded the order and added that authorities should ensure its immediate enforcement.
“It is clear that these agencies have no intention of complying with the ban at this moment,” she said, adding that agencies were intent on rushing out workers in order to recoup the costs of the recruits’ training and migration arrangements.
Licadho deputy director Ham Sunrith said: “The burden of this ban should be placed on the companies’ shoulders, not on poor women who need to be protected from being sent to an abusive environment.”
Top Manpower’s director An Bunhak, who is also president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), could not be reached for comment. He has previously said that as many as 7,000 recruits might still be in pre-departure training centers.
ACRA was scheduled to hold a meeting yesterday with the Labor Ministry to discuss the implications of the ban.
The ministry’s deputy director-general, Ho Vuthy, who was at the meeting, declined to comment on whether or not the two agencies had violated the ban by sending workers abroad, but he suggested that authorities might still leave the door open for more recruits to leave.
Asked if workers with visas could still leave to work as maids in Malaysia, he said, “We are still negotiating the procedures” for these workers with ACRA.
Spokesmen of the Council of Ministers and the Foreign Affairs Ministry referred all questions about the ban to the Labor Ministry.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, said he was surprised to hear that some agencies had continued to send recruits abroad despite Mr Hun Sen’s explicit order banning maids from going to Malaysia.
“I was surprised that they [the agencies] disregarded the prime minister’s order; they cannot interpret it in any other way,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, a former minister of women’s affairs who has long called for the ban, took a more lenient view of the fact that maids were still leaving Cambodia. “You can’t turn off the water right away,” she said, adding that the focus should now be on the government’s overhaul of migrant labor regulations.
In a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen sent yesterday, she urged the government to take immediate steps to strengthen the regulations placed on recruitment agencies and to draft a bilateral agreement with Malaysia to protect Cambodian migrant workers there.
So far, the letter said, “Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Interior officials have not fulfilled their duties and legal obligation to investigate and regulate all activities of the recruitment agencies.”