Migrant Workers Face Holes in Legal Protection

Cambodian migrant workers, who likely number in the hundreds of thousands, are at a disadvantage when dealing with the countries that receive them—namely Thai­land, South Korea and Malaysia, officials said Thursday at a conference in Phnom Penh.

Approximately 20,000 Cambod­ians have migrated legally to work in Thailand, South Korea and Malaysia, said Oum Mean, Labor Ministry un­der secretary of state, who addressed the conference on developing an Asean declaration for protecting mi­grant workers.

But exact numbers of illegal and informal migrants are hard to come by, and a more reasonable estimate for the total number of Cambodian migrant laborers abroad would be in the hundreds of thousands, Inter­national Organization for Migration project coordinator Bruno Maltoni said.

After years of isolation and conflict, Cambodia has only recently been in a position to start sending workers abroad, Maltoni said Thursday.

But as the population continues to grow, Cambodia is likely to start sending more workers overseas.

It is important to lay out a regulatory framework at this stage, Maltoni said, so that when Cambodians migrate to work in Japan, Singa­pore, Qatar and Kuwait—all on the map as potential job destinations—there are systems in place to protect them.

Cambodia has agreements with some countries under which their laborers are theoretically protected, Maltoni said, but the agreements are not necessarily implemented—and there are holes.

Domestic work, for instance, is not covered by the bilateral agreement between Thailand and Cambodia, and Cambodian domestic servants in Thailand are therefore outside the umbrella of protection that the agreement provides, he added.

A similar problem appears to be emerging in Malaysia, according to the director of the Cambodian Wo­men’s Crisis Center, Nop Sarin Sreyroth.

Addressing an anti-trafficking meeting last week, Nop Sarin Srey­roth said that since 2006, 56 Cam­bodian female domestic servants have returned from Malaysia re­porting abuse by their em­ployers.

“Firms don’t abide by any contracts, and it’s very difficult for us to intervene,” she said.

  (Reported by Eang Mengleng, Kuch Naren and Emily Lodish)

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