Cambodian Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng has met with his Saudi counterpart in Riyadh, where the two inked a memorandum of understanding — the first in a series of steps to send Cambodians to work in the Gulf country.
However, the announcement Friday of Thursday’s meeting was met with concern from a labor activist in Phnom Penh who said he would rather see Cambodians not go at all.
He pointed particularly to Saudi Arabia’s practice of indentured labor and a failure to properly address rampant and well-documented abuses against migrant workers.
Ministry spokesperson Heng Suor told Anadolu Agency on Friday that the Cambodian government will now work on trying to ensure that the next stage — an implementation agreement — would include provisions to secure the safety of workers and good working conditions.
“As long as we are not sure about safety and working conditions of our workforce, [it could take more time],” he said.
“Those are all the details we need to look at.”
He added that a similar MOU signed four years ago in Qatar has yet to result in the movement of Cambodians to work in that country, meaning it could also be some time before workers also end up in Saudi Arabia.
“Usually before we start to send the working task force of the ministries, we meet again and they look again at the conditions offered by the hosting country and what safeguard mechanisms are in place,” Suor said.
“We will apply the same rules and standards to any hosting countries.”
These standards include working conditions, safety standards, wages and complaint mechanisms.
Asked if he believed there would be any interest, given Saudi Arabia’s reputation as a country where the abuse of migrant workers has been widely exposed, Suor said the Cambodian government would do its best to reassure those who volunteer.
“I think the public are well aware of that [reputation] and we are aware of the history of violations in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
He added, however, that steps would be taken to establish “procedures and contact information” there if workers find themselves in need of assistance.