Malaysia Fails to Guarantee Cambodian Maids’ Human Rights

The Ministry of Labor hopes that a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will see Cambodia resume sending domestic workers to Malaysia by February, but negotiations on the document have stalled after Malaysia recently rejected 90 percent of proposed provisions to protect workers’ rights.

Most strikingly, Malaysia returned a draft MoU prepared by Cambodia with a black line through a provision that employers should “respect the basic human rights of the DW [domestic worker].” 

Malaysia also rejected Cambodia’s requests that domestic workers should keep possession of their own passports, be able to view and sign their employment contract before leaving Cambodia, have access to three meals daily and accrue annual leave.

“Some of the Malaysian edits are unacceptable,” said Jenna Holliday, communications specialist at U.N. Women, which led a workshop in Phnom Penh on Monday to discuss the draft MoU.

“The Malaysian side has rejected about 90 percent of the amendments that were put in [to the draft],” Ms. Holliday added. “It does raise the question: How do Malaysian employers view their Cambodian employees?”

Prime Minister Hun Sen in October 2011 indefinitely suspended Cambodia’s sending domestic workers to Malaysia after a raft of reports of abuse of domestic workers by both Malaysian employers and Cambodian recruitment agencies.

Opening Monday’s workshop, Othsman Hassan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said it is imperative that the moratorium comes to an end as soon as possible.

“The more [workers] we can send, the more money we can earn and the more money comes back to Cambodia,” Mr. Hassan said, adding that sending 300,000 domestic workers to Malaysia would amount to $1.5 billion in remittances annually—a target he wants to reach.

“It is the future for Cambodia—we have to distribute our workers to the demand of the world market,” he said, adding that he would “work hard to protect migrant workers from exploitation.”

Mr. Hassan departed the workshop soon after giving the opening remarks, missing an outpouring of frustration from representatives of migrant workers.

“They can’t give three meals per day? They can’t give a minimum wage? They can’t even allow a person to hold on to their own passport?” said Morn Nhim, president of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia.

“If they can’t even guarantee our people their basic human rights, why should we send our people to Malaysia to suffer?”

The U.N., the International Labor Organization and representatives from the government and NGOs are set to meet again in late January for another round of discussions on the draft document

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