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Maid scheme off to ‘slow start’

A group of trainee maids practise setting up a dining table at the training facility of local recruitment agency Philimore Cambodia
A group of trainee maids practise setting up a dining table at the training facility of local recruitment agency Philimore Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in October. Pha Lina

Maid scheme off to ‘slow start’

A pilot scheme sending 400 Cambodian maids to Singapore has made a spluttering start, according to local media reports, with agencies in Singapore reportedly growing frustrated at the slow pace of maid arrivals and “sceptical” about the reliability of Cambodia as a source.

Only about 100 Cambodian maids have arrived in Singapore since September, Singapore’s Straits Times reported yesterday, with agents having to turn would-be employers away as they could not guarantee the workers would arrive by a certain time.

The two-year pilot program aims to test whether Cambodian domestic workers are suitable for Singapore’s large foreign domestic worker market. If successful, it could see the Kingdom approved as an official source country.

Lao Lyhock, managing director at Philimore Cambodia, one of three local agencies taking part in the pilot program, said his agency had thus far sent 30 workers, with another 40 undergoing training.

He admitted that Singapore agents had been pressuring him to speed up supply due to high demand, but said it was impossible due to a lack of awareness about the scheme and the need for extensive training.

“Because this is a pilot scheme, if we [send] the best, we can show the government that [our workers] are good and professional,” he said, adding that floods, religious holidays and the post-election situation had affected recruitment.

“Now I think it’s fine. This month and next month there should be more recruitment.”

But Mom Sokchar, program officer at NGO Legal Support for Children and Women, said he believed that burdensome $1,900 placement fees – paid off by deducting workers’ salaries for their first six months of employment – were turning people away.

“The fee is really high.… If we learn from the experience in Malaysia, a high service fee puts many female migrant workers in a bad situation,” he said. Sokchar added the terrible abuse suffered by some Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia meant that people were now more reluctant to go abroad for domestic work.

Lyhock acknowledged the placement fee was a barrier, but said if the pilot goes well and Cambodia is recognised as a source country, agents expect to lower the fees significantly.

“Everyone wants it for free but how can [it be] free … because of the pilot our expenses are high,” he said.

Hou Vudthy, undersecretary of state at the Labour Ministry, said he was not aware of the delay and referred further questions to a spokesman who could not be reached.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR

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