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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ex-garment workers at risk in sex industry

Ex-garment workers at risk in sex industry

LAID-OFF garment factory workers who have entered the entertainment sector are at increased risk of on-the-job violence, alcohol abuse and HIV/AIDS, according to a new study assessing the impact of the global economic downturn on the Cambodian garment industry.

The study, released yesterday by the International Labour Organisation, is based on interviews with 16 ex-factory workers who were laid off during the economic crisis and took jobs as hostesses and sex workers in Phnom Penh to supplement their income.

“All women interviewed had experienced some form of workplace abuse – ranging from verbal abuse to serious physical and sexual assault,” the report states.

One of the interviewees, identified as Sotha, a 23-year-old from Prey Veng province, said that as a waitress she was threatened at gunpoint by a customer who wanted to have sex with her. Despite this, Sotha said she was not deterred from eventually moving into sex work.

After losing her job in 2009 another woman, 26-year-old Battambang native Phary, found work in a karaoke bar and soon started supplementing her income with prostitution, which allowed her to help pay for her mother’s medical treatment.

Ly Pisey, a technical assistant for the Women’s Network for Unity, said she agreed with the study’s assessment and cited the difficulty of applying Cambodian Labour Law in such workplaces.

“The women in entertainment establishments are paid so little, maybe US$30 or $40 a month, that they rely on tips from the customers,” she said. “They have no formal contracts and no guarantees of their working conditions.”

San Arun, secretary of state at the Ministry of Women’ Affairs, said yesterday that she had not seen the study, but that the ministry had created centres for retraining workers who left garment factory jobs in skills such as tailoring and cosmetology.

“We not only teach them skills, but we also educate them on moral and health issues,” San Arun said.

Though she expressed concern about the women’s health and security at entertainment establishments, she acknowledged the attractiveness of such establishments. “Some women cannot spend their time to study at the centres, because they have to spend up to a year to complete the courses.

“That’s why some leave to work in entertainment jobs: because they can earn more and faster,” she said.

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