The Cambodian government has selected six agencies to facilitate sending domestic workers to Hong Kong – with one saying they will begin sending maids by the end of the year – though rights groups yesterday warned of potential exploitation and abuses.
Ngoy Rith, deputy chief of the Labour Ministry’s Department of Labour, said that the government will allow the agencies Top Manpower, Anny Rita Best Manpower, Elite Manpower Agency, Sok Leap Metrey, Ung Rithy Group, and Win Win Manpower Service to send domestic workers to Hong Kong following an agreement in April.
“Hong Kong has talked to me a few times ... They want maids from Cambodia to work with them, as Cambodian people are polite and our cultures and traditions are similar,” he said.
Several of the chosen agencies have come under fire in the past. Among other incidents, Top Manpower was accused in 2011 of failing to help a family find their daughter who had gone missing in Malaysia after being placed by the agency; Ung Rithy has been accused repeatedly of human trafficking; and Anny Rita Best Manpower allegedly provided fake passports for workers migrating to Thailand.
An Bunhak, director of Top Manpower, said that they had received permission to recruit the workers and would train them at a newly established centre. “Last week, the Labour Department from Hong Kong came to visit the training centre, and they like what we created,” he said. “We hope we’ll be able to send the first maids in November or December.”
Bunhak added that they hoped to send between 100 and 200 domestic workers at first.
But Leo Tang, an organiser at Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions, warned that migrant domestic workers face exploitation and abuses in Hong Kong. “The most serious form is physical abuse or human trafficking,” he said. “Of course not everyone will face physical abuse, but I guess 99% of these workers will face a problem about illegal ... agency fees.”
This included agencies asking workers to pay fees up to 25 times the legal amount, which stands at about $55.
Tang further pointed to problematic advertising. “Some agencies, they are now telling Hong Kong employers: ‘Why should you hire Cambodian workers? It’s because Cambodian workers are more willing to follow the instructions of the employer,’” he said. “This means that the agents are sending a message to the public that the Cambodian worker is easier to exploit.”
And despite good laws – including a minimum wage, rest days and other rules such as sickness allowance – he said implementation was rarely enforced. “The Hong Kong government still doesn’t show a very determined attitude to implement all law and to protect domestic migrant workers,” he said. “The reason they allow foreigners to be domestic workers is to ensure that domestic workers’ wages are low enough so the Hong Kong employers can afford [them].”
Tang called for cooperation between countries to curb competition and protect workers.
Khun Tharo, coordinator of Building and Wood Workers International, which represents construction workers in Hong Kong, echoed concerns about high recruitment agency fees and low standards. “The Cambodian Government and Ministry of Labour must prescribe requirements on the working conditions,” he said.
And Cynthia Tellez, director of Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, argued spreading information was essential for the migrants to prevent exploitation, as employers often knowingly and unknowingly violated contracts. “Unless migrants are aware of them, I think it will be a risky journey for them,” she said.
She added the Cambodian government should give out phone numbers migrants could call in Hong Kong for support.