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Domestic work in spotlight

Cambodia officials will support a proposal for legally binding international standards for domestic work at a meeting in Geneva next week, an official said yesterday.

Government officials, labour representatives and business leaders from countries that belong to the International Labour Organisation are set to consider a proposed convention on “decent work” for domestic workers. If adopted and ratified by individual countries, the convention would be legally binding.

Nisha Varia, a senior researcher for the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, called the convention an “exciting initiative” demonstrating “global concern”.

“Governments around the world have recognised that domestic work has been traditionally excluded from key labour protections, and that workers in this sector are often at high risk of abuse,” she said.

Hou Vudthy, deputy director-general at the Ministry of Labour and a delegate to the meeting, said yesterday that the ministry would support the convention.

“We have considered the proposal… [and] have decided to support it,” he said.

Incidents this year at several training centres run by firms that recruit Cambodians for domestic work abroad have sparked questions about debt bondage, forced detention and poor health conditions that many workers have complained of facing. Rights groups have called for better protections for domestic workers and tighter law enforcement.

Without the clear mechanisms to inspect the conditions of the workers ... we cannot say the workers are protected

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre NGO, said yesterday that most domestic workers in Cambodia were underage, underpaid and overworked.
“Some workers report that they are required to work more than 20 hours per day,” he said.

Moeun Tola said the convention would be a positive step if it is ratified, but that further action would be required for it to be fully implemented.

“Without the clear mechanisms to inspect the conditions of the workers and so on, we cannot say the workers are protected,” he said.

Some employers, however, may prefer a non-binding recommendation from the ILO instead of a convention. Malaysia, where an estimated 30,000 Cambodians are employed as domestic workers, has proposed the same, according to a summary of recommendations provided by the ILO.

Sandra D’Amico, vice president of the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations, will travel to Geneva for the meeting next week. She said by email yesterday that a non-binding ILO
recommendation would still reflect the importance of domestic work but would better encourage “immediate action and creative policies” to address concerns.

“What is important, is to ensure that we enforce our laws and adhere to the policies and international standards that we already have in place,” she said.

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