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Abused maid wins case

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A young woman reading advertisements for "maids wanted" outside a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur. Tens of thousands of Malaysian households have been thrown into domestic chaos as a shortage of maids hits the country which has a long-standing addiction to cheap foreign labour. Photograph: AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN

An abused Cambodian maid working in Malaysia has had her day in court – and won.

Men Chan Veasna is the first Cambodian maid to successfully sue her employers in the Malaysian courts, rights groups said yesterday, calling the win a landmark victory for maids struggling for justice at the hands of abusive employers abroad.

The 30-year-old from Kampong Cham province has been stuck in limbo for the past six months since fleeing the home of her Malaysian employer, whom she accused of overworking her and withholding her salary for the duration of her two-year contract.

Last Thursday, the Malaysian Supreme Court ruled in Veasna’s favour in the ongoing court battle between her and her former employer, who had appealed against a negative ruling in the court of first instance.

Although the employer can technically still appeal the decision on a point of law under the Commonwealth legal system, such appeals are rarely accepted by the High Court.

The court awarded Veasna 3,800 Malaysian ringgits (about US$1,200), the sum of her missed salary over two years of service and further monetary compensation, yet to be calculated, for her pain and suffering at the hands of her employer.

Veasna is one of a growing number of Cambodian maids seeking justice through the Malaysian court system for abuse they have endured.

“I have waited for this case for a long time, and now I have justice from the court,” Veasna said. “I wanted to come back to Cambodia with my salary and compensation.”

Ya Navuth, executive director of NGO CARAM, the Cambodian partner of Malaysia-based Tenaganita, said it was the beginning of new successes for Cambodian maids in Malaysian courts.

“She will get enough compensation to return to her homeland, and we are happy that she has struggled and waited for the court process in Malaysia,” Navuth said, applauding the “rare” case of success for a Cambodian maid.

“So many maids return to Cambodia without any compensation,” he said.

Six Cambodian maids are being sheltered by Tenaganita.

Some of them had already begun their own court battles against abusive employers, Navuth said.

Moeun Tola, labour program director at the Community Legal Education Center, said Veasna’s trial was even rarer for the woman’s tenacity.

“These maids, they really hunger to come back home, and they want to come back home and meet their family, not wait for the court,” Tola said, pointing out that maids face additional challenges such as securing a lawyer and navigating a foreign judicial system.

Veasna’s compatriot, 18-year-old Tieng SaSa, who also suffered abuse while working as a maid in Malaysia, filed a court complaint about the same time as Veasna.

But the under-age worker couldn’t bring herself to wait out the court process and returned home to her family last month without receiving her withheld salary or any compensation for her pain and suffering, including being beaten with metal rods and having chili mashed into her eyes by her employer.

Speaking to the Post from her home in Kampong Cham, SaSa said she was happy to hear of her friend’s success.

“I could not wait any longer to reunite with my family.”

Solicitor and advocate Daniel Lo, from the Coalition to Abolish Modern Day Slavery, said it was “excellent” to see Veasna’s court victory.

“It is absolutely essential [for abused maids] to go through the court system,” he said.

“The court provides compensation for physical injuries, interest and costs. These are things the [employers] are making the system pay for, which they should pay for.”

Lo said extra-judicial tribunals in Malaysia were able to issue verdicts only for salary compensation.

“The law does not discriminate in terms of access for migrant workers, but there is a power tradition not to challenge employers who have absolute control of their passports, the ability to revoke their work permits unilaterally,” he said.

NGO support for the women was “absolutely critical”, Lo added.

To contact the reporters on this story: Sen David at david.sen@phnompenhpost.com
Bridget Di Certo at bridget.dicerto@phnompenhpost.com

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