It had been reported that the Prime Minister had signed an order on 15 October 2011, saying:
From now on recruiting, training and sending of women to work as maids in Malaysia is temporarily suspended.
Such an order did not come as a surprise, because there had been repeated reports about exploitation and abuse of Cambodian women, working in Malaysia, and there had been repeatedly also reports that the agencies in Cambodia did recruit trainees which are younger than the rules prescribed, and also, that some of the trainees were held against their will in training centers. Two Cambodian women working in Malaysia committed suicide during recent months.
This order of the Prime Minister – clear in wording and in spirit – was welcomed by many, speaking for a Cambodian labor union [reported in the Khmer language on-line newspaper Cambodia Express News – CEN – http://www.cen.com.kh], by Human Rights NGOs, and by concerned family members and politicians. The Ministry of Labor obviously saw it differently.
It was reported that the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training met with the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies on 17 October 2011. Subsequently it was reported that the Ministry saw a loophole in the words of the Prime Minister, claiming that in spite of this ban, already registered women would be allowed to continue their training and to be sent to Malaysia. As there are about 7,000 persons receiving training at present (3,000 of them registered with the Ministry to go to Malaysia), this “interpretation” of the order of the Prime Minister – finding a “loophole” – would in practice mean that business as usual is continuing.
Minister of Labor and Vocational Training Vong Sauth was quoted to have said that the order of the Prime Minister was not violated, claiming that the words of the Prime Minister noted above actually have a different meaning:
These words mean to suspend the new recruitment activities, so if they are recruited already and have signed job contracts, they will go.”
To add more back ground and context: It is surely not widely known that already about 30,000 Cambodian women are employed in Malaysia. According to a Malaysian law on migrant workers, the lowest age limit is 21 years, but some women in training said that they are 18 years old. From one recruitment agency’s training center in Phnom Penh, Century Manpower, 22 persons in training – aged between 13 and 25 – had been freed by a Military Police raid earlier in October, and on 20 October 2011, 4 underage girls were set free by a police raid on the training facilities of the SKMM Investment Group in Phnom Penh.
In spite of the “loophole” claimed by the Minister of Labor, the Association of Cambodia Recruitment Agencies declared on 20 October 2011 that their 13 members with no longer continue training and sending household helpers to Malaysia. Their president said they had taken these decisions voluntarily, “This is our own decision. We have to protect our reputation… I don’t want these things to be on the front of the newspapers.”
A Secretary of State of the Interior Ministry welcomed this decision of the Association of Cambodia Recruitment Agencies:
This is in accordance with the government ban order… It’s not good to send women to work as domestic workers in Malaysia, where they face serious risks.
Ministry of Labor officials are reported to have declined any comment on this decision of the Association of Cambodia Recruitment Agencies which had now stated that they would not use the “loophole” offered by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.
In the meantime, it has also been reported every day that groups of women are still leaving Cambodia on flights to Malaysia to work as household helpers.
These events show that not only the spirit of the order to suspend the training and sending of domestic helpers to Malaysia was violated. It is also difficult to see how such a “loophole” could be interpreted, reading the clear words of the Prime Minister, who is at present abroad.
These events belong into a wider context: the frequently appearing problem that words of an order or of the law are not implemented, but even brazenfacedly contravened.
On 21 October 2011, private armed security guards at a rubber plantation in the Snuol district of Kratie province detained a group of villagers and members of the local authorities for several hours, who wanted to inspect 200 hectares of contested land that belongs to the farmers, they claim. A Snuol district governor criticized the detaining of government officers and rights workers:
The company was wrong for holding rights workers and our officials who were permitted to measure the disputed area.
In this case, the permission issued by a district authority was violently disregarded by a private company. In the other case, a government minister found a way to interpret the Prime Minister’s order to open a “loophole” – and it was finally a private business association, that first had welcomed the “loophole,” but after some back and forth, decided “voluntarily” to act according to the Prime Minister’s order.
[Most of related information reported in The Cambodian Daily.]
What is the meaning of law and order, if such actions continue publicly, disregarding the implementation of law and order?