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Two Cambodian domestic workers answer questions at the Licadho office in Phnom Penh
Two Cambodian domestic workers answer questions at the Licadho office in Phnom Penh yesterday after they were repatriated from Singapore on Wednesday. Heng Chivoan

Maids allege mistreatment

Two Cambodian maids were repatriated from Singapore on Wednesday due to what they claim were overly strenuous working conditions.

Cambodian maids began travelling to the rich city-state late last year as part of a pilot program.

Phon Mao, 24, said yesterday that she had been sent to Singapore at the end of last year by recruiter Philimore Cambodia after working in Malaysia.

“I had to do so much work in a three-storey house from 6am to 10pm every day without any days off. I asked my employer for a day off, but they said I would meet men and did not allow me. I endured working like this for six months, but then I decided to run away and ask an NGO for help,” she said.

Domestic workers in Singapore aren’t covered by the country’s labour law and do not have regulated working hours. They are granted a weekly rest day but can agree to forfeit them for extra pay.

Mao explained that she initially signed a contract agreeing to no rest days on her employer’s urging.

According to Shelley Thio of Singaporean group Transient Workers Count Too, it was clear that Cambodian workers had been led to believe that working conditions in Singapore would be far better than Malaysia, despite long working hours being a “systemic problem”.

Yem Thida, 31, also returned on Wednesday after nine months in Singapore.

“Before, I heard that Singapore was a modern country without labour exploitation like in Malaysia, and I really wanted to go to work as a maid, but in fact, I had to work for 18 hours every day without time off.”

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached, while Secretary of State Om Mean declined to comment.

Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies chief Ung Seang Rithy said recruiters had done nothing wrong.

“They wanted to come back by themselves. The employer was not happy with [Mao] having a boyfriend and the way she worked, so the company agreed to send them back . . . I ask you, did she have any injuries or signs of mistreatment? No.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

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