Four domestic workers sent to Malaysia despite an official moratorium on the practice have been repatriated amid claims of unpaid wages and harsh working conditions, though the company that recruited them has insisted that the terms of their employment didn’t technically violate the government ban.
The four women, who were all from Kampong Chhnang province and who went to Malaysia in May, returned to Cambodia on February 25. However, three more women from the same province are reportedly being detained by Malaysian immigration authorities.
One of the repatriated women, Phon Srey Mey, 19, arrived back to her home in Koh Thkov’s Tamoul Krom village claiming she had worked for almost a year with no salary.
Srey Mey said yesterday that every time she would ask for her salary, her boss would tell her that she would get paid the following month.
“Every week, I had to borrow $7.50 from the team leader at the company,” she said. “We didn’t have enough food and the working conditions were very hard. If we couldn’t finish our work, they wouldn’t allow us to go home.”
Srey May said when she returned to Cambodia, the company made her sign a contract saying that her “salary” was money she had borrowed for expenses such as the cost of her passport and flight.
A ban on Cambodians going to work as maids in Malaysia was implemented in 2011 after a series of often brutal cases of abuse.
The company that recruited the four women, APTSE&C Cambodia Resources, claims the women were not working in Malaysia as maids.
However, the company the women worked for – H2O Cleaning Service – on its website described the women’s job as part-time maids, catering to employers who didn’t want to deal with problems that could arise from employing full-time domestic workers.
Labour advocate Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, yesterday questioned the loophole and the effectiveness of the ban.
“I think the company tried to manipulate the ban,” Tola said.Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, meanwhile said APTSE&C Cambodia Resources was not even licensed and recommended the women file an official complaint with the ministry so their cases can be investigated.
“We will take action if this company committed any wrongdoing,” he said. Saw Sreythea, 45, whose daughter also arrived last month, said she planned to file a complaint with the Ministry of Labour, but would wait to do so until her three nieces were released from Malaysia.
She added she was “afraid” the company could retaliate against her nieces. Sen Setthy Chey, executive director of APTSE & C Cambodia, said the owner of the company in Malaysia was arrested and the three other women were being held as witnesses. However, he insisted the women were not working as maids.
In December, both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to lift the ban, although the details are still being worked out.
Tola said his organisation had found the ban wasn’t effective in preventing maids from being sent to Malaysia.
“Maids were still sent,” he said. “It’s quite shameful for the Cambodian government not to fully manage the ban.”
Chum Sunry, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the ministry helped repatriate 573 Cambodian workers in 2015, including 55 women from Malaysia and 82 women from China.
He said most of the women who were returned from Malaysia were maids.