A Year on, Government Says Malaysia Maids Deal Close

Labor Ministry officials said on Monday that the final details of a plan to resume the legal migration of Cambodian maids to Malaysia could be approved by both countries by the end of the month, a year after they signed a memorandum of understanding to lift a five-year-old ban.

Prime Minister Hun Sen imposed the ban in 2011 amid mounting reports of unpaid wages, forced overtime, meager meals and physical and sexual abuse of Cambodian maids by their Malaysian employers.

After Cambodia and Malaysia signed the memorandum in December last year to reopen legal channels for the maids, Cambodia’s Labor Ministry said details of a new plan with provisions giving the maids better protection would be worked out in a matter of months.

On Monday, ministry spokesman Heng Sour said by text message that the scheme could take effect by the end of the month. Mr. Sour did not reply to further questions about the details of the deal.

Chuop Narath, deputy director of the ministry’s labor department, said negotiators from Cambodia and Malaysia were in the final stages of writing up the scheme’s operating procedures.

“We’re almost finished,” he said. “We just need the green light from both leaders.”

Labor rights groups remain skeptical that any deal will be able to give the maids the protection they need, with some Labor Ministry officials previously shown to be financially invested in some of the local recruitment agencies they’re charged with regulating.

Moeun Tola, who runs the labor rights NGO Central, said the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur had continued renewing the passports of maids who were already in Malaysia in 2011.

“So…there are a lot of missing maids.” he said. “Still, now.”

Cambodians have continued going to Malaysia to work as maids, often entering on tourist visas.

Two women who broke the ban and were repatriated with Central’s help earlier this year claimed that other Cambodian maids at the Malaysian detention center where they were sent after escaping their abusive employers were severely beaten by center staff, and some died.

The Malaysian government said one Cambodian woman had died at the center because of an unspecified illness and denied the abuse allegations.

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