Recruiters say it could be 2017 by the time Cambodia starts sending maids to Malaysia through legal channels again, despite Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s public endorsement of a tentative deal last week.
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in December that promised an end to a ban Prime Minister Hun Sun placed on sending maids to Malaysia in 2011 amid mounting reports of abuse by both recruitment agencies at home and employers abroad. Days after the signing, the Labor Ministry said it would be a few more months before the governments worked out the fine print and reopened the pipeline.
During Mr. Hun Sen’s trip to Kuala Lumpur last week, Mr. Najib said Malaysia had accepted Cambodia’s offer to send over more maids and that the two governments would work together to clear the way, according to Malaysian news agency Bernama.
But it could still be months before maids arrive in Malaysia.
An Bunhak, a former president of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, and the director of an agency himself, said on Tuesday that a government task force set up to fill in the blanks left by the memorandum was not done with its work.
Even if the details were worked out by July, it would likely be August before agencies could start recruiting maids again and five to six months more before their training was complete, said Mr. Bunhak, who now works at the Manpower Association of Cambodia.
“So I expect that [sending the maids] can be starting [at] the beginning of next year,” he said.
Mr. Bunhak said he did not know what issues were drawing out negotiations but added that “my understanding is the delay has come from the Malaysia side, not from Cambodia.”
Officials at the Labor Ministry and Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Labor rights groups remain wary of the return of a legal route to Malaysia for Cambodian maids, worried that whatever new rules the countries put in place will not be enough to guarantee their safety as long as government officials remain financially invested in the industry. The Labor Ministry has refused to release a copy of the memorandum, which was signed in December.
Malaysia’s search for new sources of domestic workers has taken on particular urgency since Indonesia announced last month that it would stop sending live-in maids abroad, also over concerns for their safety.