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Blind masseurs allege abuse by centers' owner

Blind masseurs allege abuse by centers' owner

Blind masseurs who worked at two privately-owned massage centers in Siem Reap claimed

they were forced to work more than 12 hours a day, seven days a week for just $10

a month and suffered humiliating public abuse.

A former staff member from Siem Reap's Angkor Massage Center, which has no relation

to the well-known Seeing Hands massage centers, said staff were verbally abused in

front of customers. Conditions were so bad he was unable to make a living.

"We worked during the day then slept on the same massage table at night. We

were treated like slaves," he said. "I felt [the owner] should not do this

because he is also a disabled man."

Center owner Hem Hima Darin, who owns both the Angkor and Bayon massage centers in

Siem Reap, denied the allegations leveled at him by nine former staff.

"I'm very democratic. If I'm bad, how come 25 staff still live with me?"

Darin asked. "My staff are blind and some are deaf, so we have to use a strong

voice to ask them to do massage."

Darin admitted he paid staff only $15 per month but said that all meals, accommodation

and medicines were covered. He said they were open for 12 hours but claimed staff

worked only two to three hours a day as they didn't have many customers.

The Association of the Blind in Cambodia endorses five Seeing Hands clinics: one

in Siem Reap, three in Phnom Penh and a training center in Sihanoukville. It does

not endorse either of Darin's clinics.

Twenty-seven year old Chea Leap worked for Darin from 1998 until June 2001.

"I quit because the situation was chaotic. Darin cursed my parents and he threatened

to sue me if I quit the job. There are a lot of problems, he used us from 6 a.m.

until even 11 p.m. sometimes," he said. "When Darin saw that I was sick

he threatened to sack me four times. I just cried because I had no alternative but

to stay."

A concerned party reported the case to Licadho in Phnom Penh in November, 2001 but

due to a lack of specific information and staffing problems in Siem Reap, it was

not followed up. The human rights NGO has confirmed it will investigate the case.

One expatriate who visited Darin's center assumed it was part of the Seeing Hands

clinics and said it wasn't up to the standard he expected.

"The massage wasn't as good, it wasn't clean and the masseurs were full of fear

and suspicion. They wouldn't answer my questions about where they got trained,"

he said.

Seeing Hands clinics work as collectives, with masseurs working around eight hours

a day and sharing operating costs. They get six months' training, which includes

anatomy lessons and learning Khmer and English.

Average wages at Seeing Hands are between $80-100 a month, based on the number of

clients they see. In comparison, Angkor and Bayon Massage are run as a profit making

businesses. Ex-staff said they received little training.

Chea Leap now works at Seeing Hands IV in Siem Reap, where he earns between $70-150

a month. He said all six masseurs at his clinic had "run away" from Angkor

Massage.

"Now my work conditions are very different. I have a lot of freedom," he

said. "I'm happier now rather than living in Darin's colony. He still calls

and curses me through the telephone."

However Darin said that he told the parents of his staff that he looks after them

like he would his own children.

"I have fired four or five staff because they are thieves and stole money from

other staff. We are a company not a charity," he said.

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