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Domestic workers push for protections

Forty national and foreign NGOs yesterday called on the government to ratify the International Labour Organization’s 2011 Domestic Workers Convention in order to better safeguard the rights of Cambodian domestic workers, both inside and outside of the country.

The missive, which says that the Kingdom’s domestic workers currently enjoy no protection under the law, was signed by the rights groups Licadho, the Cambodian Legal Education Center and the Cambodia Domestic Worker Network (CDWN), among others. Allegations of abuse are not uncommon among maids in Cambodia or abroad. Maids working in Malaysia have returned with numerous accounts of grave abuses.

Under the ILO convention, domestic workers are entitled to decent working and living conditions, days off, the right to collective bargaining, and “protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence”.

CDWN deputy director Yem Sothy said that 240,000 domestic workers in Cambodia and thousands abroad would benefit from accession to the convention. “If there is an agreement, the worker will get a proper salary . . . and have holidays to visit their homeland,” she said.

Hai Somaly, 20, from Kandal, came to Phnom Penh to become a maid when she was only 10. According to her, domestic workers are accorded a lower place in Cambodian society and often face exploitation.

“I want laws to protect us, and I also want a minimum wage like other types of worker,” she said.

Indeed, many of the provisions in the ILO convention say domestic workers should be given legal recognition and protections commensurate with “workers generally”. However, Cambodia’s garment sector is essentially the only industry with regulations on wages and other worker benefits.

Nonetheless, said Dave Welsh, country director of the labour rights group Solidarity Center, ratification of the convention is “very important” as “the more ILO conventions that are ratified, the more formalised the economy becomes”. Labour Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday or declined to comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY STUART WHITE

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