Cambodia has supported an “historic” international convention that has earned praise from rights groups for setting the first global standards for domestic work.
The treaty passed overwhelmingly on Friday at a meeting of International Labour Organisation member states in Geneva.
The convention calls on all ILO member states to provide protection for an estimated 53 to 100 million people, mostly women and girls, who work in private homes around the world.
Reasonable working hours, a minimum wage and time off were some of the standards adopted, the ILO said in a statement on Friday. Such measures would have to be ratified by parliament before they could be legally binding.
An Bunhak, director of the Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, said it was too early for Cambodia to ratify the treaty, claiming such a move would “destroy the harmony” between employers and domestic workers.
He said households employing domestic workers “consider them as a member of the family” and often provided support for education or vocational training. “Our culture is different,” he said.
If domestic workers were brought under the labour law, he warned, such benefits could cease and wages would not be sufficient to support education and living expenses in cities such as Phnom Penh.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said it was “very seldom” that domestic workers in Cambodia, many of whom were children, actually attended school.
Moreover, employers paid them “based on their favour”, rather than a contractual obligation, leaving the door open for abuse, he said.
A number of recent allegations that Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia have been abused by both their employers and the recruitment firms that train them have highlighted a gap in worker protections.
An Bunhak said Cambodia should urge Malaysia – which expressed opposition to a legally binding agreement and abstained from the vote in Geneva – to ratify the convention.
An estimated 30,000 Cambodians are employed as domestic workers in Malaysia.
Eni Lestari, chair of the International Migrants’ Alliance, said a refusal by Cambodia to ratify the convention might become an obstacle if it asked Malaysia to do so or adopt a bilateral agreement with adequate protections for Cambodian domestic workers.
Officials at the Ministry of Labour could not be reached for comment yesterday.