The migration pathway for Cambodian migrants to work in Thailand is regulated by law. Both countries signed a memorandum of understanding (Mou), stipulating the rules on sending and receiving labour migrants. The MoU establishes that Private Recruitment Agencies (PRAs) are in charge of recruiting and sending Cambodian workers to Thailand. Yet, not all PRAs operate lawfully putting willing migrants at risk of exploitation and trafficking How does this affect migrants?
In June 2018 Cambodian and Thai officials documented 1,070,000 Cambodian migrant workers, both regular and irregular, living in Thailand.
To ensure safe movement of workers, both countries have laid out legal routes and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2003, which was revised and ratified in 2015. The aim of this document is to provide a regularized pathway for undocumented workers (including those already residing in Thailand) and to promote legal channels amongst migrants and employers.
According to the MoU system, when Thai employers want to employ foreign workers, they need to notify the Department of Employment of Thailand, which in turn informs the Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MOLVT), creating a quota, number of migrant workers to be employed. In Cambodia the quota is presented to all Private Recruitment Agencies, who are responsible for recruiting the workers willing to get an employment in Thailand.
The figure below explains the process in detail:
Unfortunately, the recruitment process under the MoU system is not adequately monitored and some Private Recruitment Agencies recruit workers before the quota is published and keeps the workers in the country for several months without employment. Accounts from the field also suggest that there have been cases in which recruitment agencies sent the workers to Thailand with tourist visa, thus submitting migrants to the imminent threat of deportation. MIGRA ACTION project partners are familiar with cases of Cambodians being offered an employment, which never existed, and asked to pay for recruitment fees, whilst never receiving any documents. Likewise, some workers reported to have been assisted by PRA brokers to cross the border, undocumented, and when in Thailand were hidden from the police.
Another recurrent issue is the recruitment process of workers. All PRAs have their head offices in the capital, but recruit workers in the provinces, often in very remote areas, especially when looking for unskilled workforce. They use representatives across the country, who offer assistance to Cambodians willing to migrate and are actually indispensable for prospect migrants, facilitating the application through the MoU process, assisting in filling-in the passport application, alleviating the need of travel to the capital, and so on.
MIGRA ACTION project partners have observed, however, that not all the brokers represent a state-recognised recruitment agency. Instead, we have been informed by the members of Self Help Groups of the communities, that many villagers were approached by the brokers and offered work in Thailand without or with incomplete documentation, sometimes even smuggling workers through the border for a lesser cost and faster than the regular process.
These practices are still common especially due to the fact that the regular procedures of the MoU process are complicated, time consuming, costly and not accessible to the majority of workers living in remote areas of Cambodia.
Another aspect is the economic situation of workers, who cannot wait long for recruitment. The decision to migrate is taken out of necessity rather than choice, and therefore migrants become an easy prey for unscrupulous brokers. Many villagers are unaware of their rights and cannot differentiate between regular and irregular procedures, nor they know visas and necessary paperwork. Additionally, they tend to believe recruitment agents, as he may be already known in the community or within their network. Discerning between brokers and actual recruitment agents -representing a recognised and registered recruitment agency- may be difficult and it is often too late when the migrants recognize their mistake: the money for the recruitment fees has been paid and the recruiter is long gone and not traceable.
Private recruitment agencies (PRAs) are officially regulated in the country. The Royal Government of Cambodia, with the support of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), developed a policy on labour migration in 2011, clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the PRAs. Unfortunately, fraudulent contracts and scams are still common and reported by Cambodian migrants. PRAs have a history of falsifying documents, withholding contracts and charging excessive fees for job placements that sometimes do not exist. Reports of minors being recruited as well as the issuing of documents with an altered identity and age are common.
The regulation on the operation of PRAs (Sub-Decree No. 190 on the Management of Sending of Cambodian Workers Abroad through Private Recruitment Agencies), covers inspection of agencies, regulation of fees and contract terms, enforcement of complaint mechanism and sanctions for unlicensed brokers or agencies. As of August 2018, there are 89 recruiting agencies registered with the Ministry of Labour to operate formally and recruit migrant workers to Thailand.
However, the lack of resources and capacity of Cambodian officials hampers the actual implementation of the policy and the protection of migrants, especially before their departure. A lot needs to be done to strengthen protection, which can be difficult to enforce due to the cross-border nature of the problem and prosecution of those responsible for exploiting migrants.
The cost of registration is another burning issue. Even though the actual costs for migration are laid out by the MoU (see above infographic) and set at 49 USD, migrants end up paying much more than this. The administrative rules are unclear and vary from one province or one employer to the other. Members of the Self-Help Groups reported to MIGRA ACTION paying on average 600-700 USD to complete the whole migration process. They cannot afford such an expensive fee, it is therefore not a surprise that they prefer irregular channels, which reduce these costs significantly. Furthermore, since the MoU does not allow changes of employer once workers are in Thailand, migrants find it more convenient to use irregular channels as they think changing job will be easier if they do encounter problems. Many migrants, also, think that it is simple to legalize their work status once on the other side of the border.
However, at the moment, this is not possible anymore. For all the undocumented migrants present in Thailand the 2017 Royal Ordinance on the Management of Foreign Workers Employment (B.E. 2560) gave the possibility to be registered by June 30, 2018. From that date onwards, undocumented workers face fines between 5,000 and 50,000 Baht, deportation to their home country and ban from re-applying for a work permit in Thailand for two years. The fines also apply to employers: those found hiring workers without proper documentation must pay between 10,000-100,000 Baht per worker. According to the same Ordinance, if they repeat the offense, they are fined between 50,000-200,000 Baht, may face up to one year in jail, and cannot employ workers for three years.
According to Thai officials, as of July 2018 there were some 10,000 undocumented Cambodian workers in Thailand. Labour rights group suspected that their actual number could reach even 20,000 or 30,000.
Lack of documentation and no knowledge of the local language increases the likelihood of being trafficked, risk of scams or exploitation and deportation.
During field visits to the communities, many returned migrants share stories of deception and exploitation. Many of them feel guilty for having trusted the broker or the agency that lured them into migrating abroad to work in different industries than they were told. They also explain that they had been cheated by intermediaries who provided them with fake documents or tourist visa to work in Thailand. Cambodian migrants in this situation usually do not try to report or to pursue justice after rights violations due to fear of being arrested.
In order to reduce the information gap, we build capacity of Cambodian communities and raise awareness on what documents are needed and what procedures must be followed before accepting a job offer in Thailand. People in the villages, including the families of migrants, know now what the little red book is for, referring to a passport, and are gaining confidence to report cases of exploitation and abuse to the authorities. Within MIGRA ACTION, we also share the official list of the approved and certified recruitment agencies with the communities, provided
by the Ministry of Labour, so that villagers can approach them if they wish to migrate or report them to the authority if they committed exploitative or fraudulent practices.
Read a Testimony of Ang, deceived by a private recruitment agency