Cambodian workers, maids to seek greener pastures in Saudi Arabia

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Cambodian migrant workers

Cambodia and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding on February 11 to create a framework for sending labourers and household helpers to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement released by the Cambodia’s Labour Ministry.

The so-called “Cooperation Agreement on the Recruitment of Domestic Workers and General Workers” aims at setting up licensed recruitment offices to “export” Cambodian workers. The new framework is also meant to oversee work standards and repatriation of labourers. The workers coming to Saudi Arabia should not have any criminal background and should have received training in institutes or centers. The workers also ought to have been introduced to “Saudi Arabia’s customs and traditions.”

“This agreement will bring benefit both countries’ labour sectors,” Cambodia Labour Minister Ith Samheng said.

However, not everybody is of the minister’s opinion.

“This is bad news,” Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, a Cambodian non-government organisation, told the Phnom Penh Post.

“In Cambodia, we have enough experience of sending maids to Malaysia without proper mechanisms or transparent management, and then we repeat the issue with Singapore… Saudi Arabia is much worse than Malaysia or Singapore, we need to be very careful,” he said.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has been criticised by many human rights groups for its bad and sometimes violent treatment of foreign workers, namely maids. There are documentations of numerous cases of abuse of domestic workers from developing countries, showing slave-like conditions, torture and even killings.In October, India lodged a formal complaint with Saudi Arabia after one of its citizens working as a maid there had her arm cut off by her employer. Cambodia’s embassy in Kuwait is currently working to repatriate Him Srey, a 39-year-old domestic worker from Cambodia’s Muslim Cham minority, who said she had worked for her Saudi employer being given only little food for a fraction of her promised salary. Last December, a maid from Sri Lanka was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery with a fellow Sri Lankan migrant worker and the verdict was only changed to jail time after intervention by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo. In 2014, Saudi media reported that 25 Indonesian maids were on death row in the country.

Indonesia last year banned maids from working not only in Saudi Arabia, but in 21 countries in the Middle East, saying that working conditions in those countries are “prone to violations of legal and human rights,” salaries were low, and Indonesia has to “keep its dignity” by not sending its people over there, even though the country lost out on an estimates $2 billion in remittances per year.

However, many Cambodian families are dependent on money from relatives working abroad, with the World Bank estimating Cambodia’s total remittances doubled to $731 million last year. Currently, most oversea Cambodian labourers are working Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

Other observers are warning of deteriorating economic conditions in the Gulf countries due to slumping oil prices, leading to the formerly not very common occurrence that some Arab middle-class families are on a tightening budget which makes it more unlikely that they would follow the more expensive path to book a maid from an official labour agency but hire one from the sprawling “black market,” rendering a labour regulation framework useless.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Cambodian migrant workers

Cambodia and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding on February 11 to create a framework for sending labourers and household helpers to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement released by the Cambodia’s Labour Ministry.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Cambodian migrant workers

Cambodia and Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding on February 11 to create a framework for sending labourers and household helpers to Saudi Arabia, according to a statement released by the Cambodia’s Labour Ministry.

The so-called “Cooperation Agreement on the Recruitment of Domestic Workers and General Workers” aims at setting up licensed recruitment offices to “export” Cambodian workers. The new framework is also meant to oversee work standards and repatriation of labourers. The workers coming to Saudi Arabia should not have any criminal background and should have received training in institutes or centers. The workers also ought to have been introduced to “Saudi Arabia’s customs and traditions.”

“This agreement will bring benefit both countries’ labour sectors,” Cambodia Labour Minister Ith Samheng said.

However, not everybody is of the minister’s opinion.

“This is bad news,” Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights, a Cambodian non-government organisation, told the Phnom Penh Post.

“In Cambodia, we have enough experience of sending maids to Malaysia without proper mechanisms or transparent management, and then we repeat the issue with Singapore… Saudi Arabia is much worse than Malaysia or Singapore, we need to be very careful,” he said.

In fact, Saudi Arabia has been criticised by many human rights groups for its bad and sometimes violent treatment of foreign workers, namely maids. There are documentations of numerous cases of abuse of domestic workers from developing countries, showing slave-like conditions, torture and even killings.In October, India lodged a formal complaint with Saudi Arabia after one of its citizens working as a maid there had her arm cut off by her employer. Cambodia’s embassy in Kuwait is currently working to repatriate Him Srey, a 39-year-old domestic worker from Cambodia’s Muslim Cham minority, who said she had worked for her Saudi employer being given only little food for a fraction of her promised salary. Last December, a maid from Sri Lanka was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery with a fellow Sri Lankan migrant worker and the verdict was only changed to jail time after intervention by the Foreign Ministry in Colombo. In 2014, Saudi media reported that 25 Indonesian maids were on death row in the country.

Indonesia last year banned maids from working not only in Saudi Arabia, but in 21 countries in the Middle East, saying that working conditions in those countries are “prone to violations of legal and human rights,” salaries were low, and Indonesia has to “keep its dignity” by not sending its people over there, even though the country lost out on an estimates $2 billion in remittances per year.

However, many Cambodian families are dependent on money from relatives working abroad, with the World Bank estimating Cambodia’s total remittances doubled to $731 million last year. Currently, most oversea Cambodian labourers are working Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

Other observers are warning of deteriorating economic conditions in the Gulf countries due to slumping oil prices, leading to the formerly not very common occurrence that some Arab middle-class families are on a tightening budget which makes it more unlikely that they would follow the more expensive path to book a maid from an official labour agency but hire one from the sprawling “black market,” rendering a labour regulation framework useless.

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