Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Labour nightmares retold

Labour nightmares retold

Labour nightmares retold

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Mam Pech (left), the mother of migrant worker Ros Saruen, listens during a press conference at the SRP headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday. Her daughter went to work in Malaysia in 2008 and has not been heard from in seven months.

A Cambodia migrant worker who was at times threatened at knifepoint, tied up or punched in the head by her employer yesterday revealed her chilling experience of the labour recruitment industry.

Following her testimony via video link, broadcast at Sam Rainsy Party headquarters, opposition parliamentarian Mu Sochua slammed the Ministry of Labour for allegedly protecting recruitment companies that repeatedly sent employees into such “incredibly serious” situations.

Hak Srey Mao, originally from Kampong Speu province, told a conference of about 20 local and international reporters the employer she had been sent to work for “put a knife to my neck, tied me with a rope, hit me over the head, made me work until 1am and hardly gave me anything to eat”.

“Whatever the employer gave me, the agency took from me. I have never received any money for my work,” the 27-year-old, who lives  in a Malaysian shelter, said.

Now her wish is to return to Cambodia and try to find her son she hasn’t seen since he was three months old. That was five years ago, when his grandparents were still alive.

Another abuse victim, 30-year-old Mao Vesna, said via video link that she had successfully sued a former employer who dumped her at an airport after refusing to pay her for two years’ work.

After the Nyuong Pak agency, which  had sent her to the abusive employer, withdrew its legal support, Mao Vesna represented herself and successfully argued that a pay slip bearing her signature was a fake.   

“I decided to go to court without legal representation, and I defended myself with my broken English [showing] that I had enough proof that I did not sign the documents and that the signature was falsified,” she said.

But Mao Vesna remains stranded in Malaysia without a cent of compensat-ion, as a court order has denied her the right to leave the country because of an impending appeal.

Also watching the women’s talks were  families searching for their loved ones who had been sent abroad.

Mam Pech, of Kratie province, said she had not heard from her daughter Ros Saruen for seven months, after she was sent to Malaysia by the recruitment firm T&P Co Ltd.

Neang Vanna, from Kampong Thom province, said she had lost contact with her daughter, Kea Samach, after T&P sent her to Malaysia three years ago.

T&P has been connected to a litany of reported abuses including the death of a woman in one of its training centres early this year, followed days later by an escape attempt from the same facility in which a woman jumped from a three-storey building.

No labour recruitment firm has ever had its licence suspended or revoked in Cambodia.

Mu Sochua said yesterday government authorities such as the ministries of labour, interior and foreign affairs had turned a blind eye to companies like T&P because they were big businesses with powerful influence.  

“It’s money, and the owners of these agencies are very highly placed and protected. Some of them are Okhnas {tycoons],’’ she said.

“How do you tackle a situation when the government really is protecting [them]? Who is the real owner of T&P? This kind of information must be transparent.”

Mu Sochua also decried new Cambodian legislation regulating the labour recruitment industry as “a sub-decree for the sake of a sub-decree”, claiming it legitimised the government while addressing no core issues.

Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said yesterday Mu Sochua should write a letter to the ministry outlining detailed allegations against T&P, at which point they would take action.
T&P could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Liva Sreedharan, project officer at the Malaysia-based rights group Tenaganita, told the conference that more than 50 per cent of the 54 Cambodian domestic servants her organisation had saved this year were victims of “immense violations” and had been physically assaulted.  

“A staggering percentage were sexually abused, starved and their salaries were not paid at all,” she said, adding that none had written contracts and most of the women’s passports had been taken from them.  

All showed signs of anxiety and  some were clinically depressed. Most were wary about returning to Cambodia, despite a deep longing for  their homeland, because they felt they had failed their families.

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