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Pitfalls for Hong Kong maid program

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A trainee maid receives instructions from a supervisor while practising skills at a training school in Phnom Penh in 2013. Pha Lina

Pitfalls for Hong Kong maid program

The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training said its pilot project to send domestic maids to Hong Kong last December was “not a success” as the wages in the Asian financial hub were not lucrative enough.

Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said the wages offered by Hong Kong employers were similar to what workers could earn at home. That, he said, made it unattractive for Cambodians.

“People prefer to stay and work in Cambodia rather than work as a domestic helper in Malaysia or Hong Kong. The host country needs to relook at the salary structure,” he said.

Sour said more than 10 companies were granted licences to recruit maids for Hong Kong but only four managed to send workers, and at present less than 40 maids are working in that country.

Teng Patama, administrative officer of the Ung Rithy group, a recruitment agency, claimed that about 20 Cambodians are now working as maids in Hong Kong and another 10 will join them next month.

“So far we have sent around 20 maids to Hong Kong and they went at different times, sometimes only one or two persons were willing to go."

“We are not sending them in groups as they have to complete the application process,” she said, adding that so far they have not received any complaints of mistreatments by Hong Kong employers.

Patama said her company helped the workers to get jobs with higher incomes. Wages in Hong Kong are high and there is adequate legal protection for maids, and no abuse or harassment from employers so far.

“They have full freedom to communicate with their families as well. They are allowed to use phones and even communicate via Facebook, so we know how they are doing there,” she said.

According to Patama, without overtime allowances, a worker could earn $570 per month.

The agency provides training before the maids are sent to Hong Kong to ensure they have the basic skills and are able to adapt well in the host country.

“We taught them the basic skills required of a domestic worker. Those with experience and who understand the language were quick to learn within three months,” she said.

Moeun Tola, from the Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights or Central, said the complaints they heard from workers in Hong Kong were verbal harassments, violence such as hitting, maids forced to work long hours and perform jobs that are not included in the contract.

“For example, maids are asked to wipe mirrors or window glass in high rise Hong Kong apartments.

“They need to be well-trained in Chinese and English languages so they understand the local culture. Working in Hong Kong is generally better than in Malaysia. We should consider pre-departure programs to train our maids,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ministry has given permission to selected companies to legally send Cambodian workers to countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Qatar, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Japan.

Sour said this was necessary to ensure workers are not cheated by unscrupulous agents.

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