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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Cambodian MP wants bilateral agreement on domestic workers

PETALING JAYA: Cambodian opposition MP, Mu Sochua, is determined to push for a bilateral agreement between Cambodia and Malaysia on the protection of Cambodian domestic workers here.

According to her, a mere memorandum of understanding, as suggested by Human Resources Minister S Subramaniam would be insufficient in addressing and resolving the issue of Cambodian domestic worker abuse in Malaysia.

Cambodia last month imposed a temporary ban on its citizens from working in Malaysian households following allegations of abuse.

Sochua, who was the driving force behind the ban, is adamant that better mechanisms be put in place when it is finally lifted to guarantee the protection of domestic workers and the prosecution of those who violate the law.

In a joint press conference with Tenaganita today, she explained that a bilateral agreement is crucial because it would have to include the Asean Migrant Workers Declaration, the International Labour Organisation( ILO) Convention on Domestic Workers and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

“And the agreement shouldn’t be limited to governments alone but must also include civil society, unions and NGOs to truly address the issue,” she said. “And politicians have to be involved as well so that we can hold ourelves accountable to our constituents.”

“I will continue pushing for clear mechanisms that will ensure a clean process of recruitment and accountability. This is not about business alone.”

Tenaganita, meanwhile, announced that it will push for a standardised contract for all domestic workers which will be the basis for the development of the bilateral agreement.

Its executive director, Irene Frenandez, told the media that Malaysia practiced discrimination in the way it addressed domestic workers as there are different contracts for each country.

“We need a standard contract for all domestic workers regardless of their countries of origin,” she said. “This way employers will also be clearer on their responsibilities in terms of protecting and addressing the rights of the domestic worker.”

Fernandez added that the Bar Council and other civil society groups had submitted a memorandum to the Human Resources Ministry about a year ago which included the recommended contract.

“We will revive that discussion and work together with Sochua and other civil society organisations in Cambodia on this matter,” she said. “Hopefully these basic demands and requirements are put in place so the ban can be lifted within three months.”

‘Real issue must be tackled’
Fernandez also said that the two main issues that required restructuring are the recruitment fees and the need for a post-arrival orientation programme.

“Recruitment fees is one of the major controls that employers have over domestic workers,” she pointed out. “It creates debt bondage and has to go. Direct recruitment from Indonesia only costs RM2,000, so employers don’t really need to fork out huge amounts for a domestic worker.”

“The post-arrival orientation programme must be rights-based and conducted for both employer and domestic workers. We will ask the government to allow civil societies to also conduct this programme to prevent agencies from pushing their own framework of control.”

Sochua, however, acknowledged that certain measures would take more than three months to implement, like the full adoption of the Asean declaration, changing legislation and reforming the judiciary.

“But Cambodia has to clean its house first before asking Malaysia to do the same,” she said. “We need to address the problem of unemployment among women by protecting them instead of simply providing them employment opportunities abroad.”

“The temporary ban has sent out a very clear message in Cambodia and has received strong public support. And I believe that the Cambodian Prime Minister has the political will to change the situation. But there is still a long way between will and what is eventually done.”

During her first visit to Malaysia in August, Sochua only met with rescued domestic workers and NGOs to avoid her visit being politicised.

This time however, she will be holding informal talks with opposition MPs including Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah and Batu MP Tian Chua.

But she made it clear that she isn’t here to seek out media opportunities or to seek the apology that Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, promised to offer if the allegations of abuse are true.

Neither Anifah nor any government representative has responded to a recently released report by the Human Rights Watch on the abuse of Cambodian domestic workers to Malaysia.

“What is an apology without addressing the real issue or hearing the voices of the workers?” said Sochua. “And without realising that a visa of employment is not a visa of exploitation.”

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