The Ministry of Labour launched a ministerial regulation yesterday aimed at improving working conditions for those employed at “entertainment establishments” such as nightclubs, karaoke parlours, and beer gardens.
Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng said that under the prakas, or regulation, entertainment workers will be trained about their rights as employees to protect them from issues rampant in the industry, such as sexual harassment, excessive overtime hours, and forced alcohol and drug consumption, among others.
“This prakas targets entertainment workers, [and] we will fully reach them to enforce the labour law,” Sam Heng said, before then joking that inspectors “should not blame the ministry if their wives get mad” at them for inspecting adult entertainment establishments.
The International Labour Organization has been pushing for the law, and praised it for “reach[ing] into a sector where most governments fail to provide adequate protection”, according to a press release.
Sar Mora, head of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said the prakas marked the first time that entertainment workers were protected by the law.
“We urge the government to inspect any entertainment [establishment] which reports sexual harassment to workers, or mistreats them to ensure they work safely and healthily,” he said.
However, if certain entertainment establishments refuse to cooperate, trainers will simply have to move on, as the training sessions are not mandatory.
“We have to start where we can. Eventually, workers will move [to better workplaces] if you create a core of good practices,” said Richard Howard, the ILO’s HIV/AIDS specialist for the Asia Pacific.
Prostitution remains “completely and totally banned” in the Kingdom, said Chuong Por, the ILO’s HIV and gender director for Cambodia, and the prakas does not address the continued use of condoms as evidence in prostitution busts, which critics say discourages their use.
But officials from the country’s National AIDS Alliance said the regulation will help cut down the HIV rate by making entertainment workers less susceptible to sexual harassment and forced consumption of drugs and alcohol.
“As we know, entertainment workers face [increased exposure] to HIV infection. If they are not sexually harassed, they will avoid HIV infection,” said Dr Tia Phalla, vice-chair of the National AIDS Alliance.
“The goal is zero new infections, zero death[s], and zero discrimination”, said Phalla, citing Cambodia’s decline in HIV rates from 68 infections per day in 1995 to only two by 2013.
Minister of Tourism Thong Khon also praised the prakas, saying that as tourist arrivals increase and ASEAN integration approaches, the sector, composed of 659 establishments that employ more than 10,000 people, needs to put an end to “discrimination, noncompliance with gender principles, sexual assault, HIV, et cetera”.
“Women will face harassment if there is no law or regulation to protect them like in any other sector,” Khon said.
Kim Sereiroath, director of the Ministry of Tourism’s industry department, agreed that reforms were especially needed for the Kingdom’s burgeoning tourism sector.