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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Name change doesn't make domestic work abroad safe: groups

Name change doesn't make domestic work abroad safe: groups

Rights organisations say a shift in employee titles for domestic workers in Malaysia won't of itself reduce exploitation of women in these roles.

WOMEN's rights and anti-trafficking groups have expressed concern that a change in legal title of laboUrers working abroad is superficial, and does nothing to improve their rights as vulnerable half-citizens.

According to the Cambodian government, the Malaysian government now legally refers to domestic workers as "house assistants" rather than the more derogatory terms "maid", "servant" or even "domestic worker".

Lim Mony, the women's program officer for local human rights group Adhoc, said the change - done in the interest of boosting legal recognition of the workers - is merely cosmetic.

"The name is not important. What is important is to stop the violation of the rights of laboUrers both in and out of the country," she said.

"The government and the Ministry of Labour need to pay more attention to controlling and checking companies that are exporting these labourers to domestic homes overseas and to think carefully about their rights and the law," she added.

Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said that he was pleased with the name change but would wait and see whether it prompted any real change in attitudes.  

"We recognise that previously Cambodian workers were discriminated and had their rights abused, including being raped or verbally abused by house owners," he said.

"So I support the name change, as it provides more rights to workers, but we will wait and see," he added.

Ya Navuth, executive director of human trafficking NGO Coordination of Action Research on Aids and Mobility (CARAM), told the Post that there are currently about 10,000 Cambodians working in Malaysia as domestic workers, making it the most common destination for labour exporting.

"Changing the title is of no importance. What is important is their working conditions and whether they resemble the contract or not," he said. 

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