Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Wednesday said there are still thousands of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand who have not received the full legitimate rights that could protect them from abuses.
This, he said was despite the two countries having laid out procedures and mechanism through a memorandum of understanding to provide legitimacy for their employment.
The remarks were made during the celebration of the National Anti-Human Trafficking Day at the Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Center in Phnom Penh.
Sar Kheng said that since July of last year, more than 500,000 workers have been granted legal documents such as the certificate of residence, work permits and fixed employment period, among others.
“Providing legitimacy in this phase is only a temporary solution because as of now, only around 400,000 workers have been covered in the memorandum of understanding [MoU] between the two countries,” he said.
Sar Kheng noted that Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand’s fishing industry are the most vulnerable. He said a separate mechanism is needed to protect them.
“Workers in the fishing industry are most vulnerable to abuses. We need a separate agreement [with Thailand] which is of benefit to both [Thai] employers and [Cambodian] workers,” he said.
Sar Kheng said that more than one million Cambodians are working abroad – legally and illegally.
“There are many workers who are facing challenges and at risks. We don’t know exactly how many of them are facing problems."
Without a mechanism to protect them, some have gone missing, lost contact with families or been detained [by employers] for no apparent reason because they have been sent far away,” he said.
Dy The Hoya, a senior official at labour rights group Central, echoed Sar Kheng’s concerns.
“They can be arrested by Thai police [for working without permits] and repatriated. So they have to live in hiding and face exploitation.
“In order for the workers to receive legitimacy, I think the government needs to decrease passport fees and increase the number of passport offices,” he said.