Category Archives: Domestic Workers

Maid to Be Repatriated After Turning to Facebook for Help

A Cambodian maid who claimed in a viral Facebook video that she was stranded in Saudi Arabia after fleeing her abusive employer will be repatriated this week, the Cambodian ambassador to Kuwait said on Sunday.

In the video, posted under the Facebook account name “Maari Sanaa” on Wednesday, the woman said she had lost contact with her family years ago and appealed for users to track down her mother. She did not have a passport and had no idea how to get home, she said.

“Please all brothers and sisters help me, share it via Facebook,” she says in the video, which has been viewed more than 50,000 times. “When I was working in a foreign country, the [employer] cheated me. Didn’t give me money at all.”

One user claimed to have found her mother and pasted a telephone number in the comments. When reporters called the number, the woman who answered confirmed the relationship.

According to 55-year-old Los Nas, her daughter, Sos Rotus, is a 28-year-old Cham Muslim from Kompong Thom province. She was 16 when she migrated to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid, she said.

Before the video surfaced, Ms. Nas had thought her daughter was dead.

“We talked once and she was telling me that she was [being] abused, and I no longer received her calls ever since,” she said, adding that her daughter had not elaborated on the nature of the abuse.

Ms. Nas said she contacted the agency who had recruited her daughter as well as rights group Licadho, but neither could help her.

Tan Bunpa, Cambodia’s ambassador to Kuwait, the closest country to Saudi Arabia that has a Cambodian embassy, said on Sunday that he was collecting the necessary legal documents to issue Ms. Rotus a temporary travel pass.

Mr. Bunpa said Ms. Rotus had not contacted the embassy, and officials had been alerted of her plight through her Facebook video. The documents would reach Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital, by Tuesday, he said, and she should be able to fly home within the week.

“Those Cambodian housemaids normally flee their employer without bringing their own legal documents, even passport, so it is hard for them to travel. And it is hard for us to help them,” he said.


By: Leng Len, Cambodia Daily

Published on: 21 August, 2017

Agencies With Government Ties to Send Maids to Hong Kong

Six recruitment agencies selected for a pilot program to send Cambodian maids to Hong Kong include two companies with family ties to top government officials that also participated in a similar venture with Singapore that soon became mired in controversy.

One of them has also had a number of complaints filed against it claiming labor abuse.

The Labor Ministry identified the six agencies at a workshop it hosted in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to allay fears about the deal it struck with Hong Kong in April to start sending domestic workers there.

Almost as soon as the deal was announced, rights groups raised concerns that it might go the way of a similar deal Hong Kong made with Burma in 2014 that quickly collapsed under the weight of language barriers and mounting fears the women were endangered.

The six agencies are Top Manpower, Anny Rita Best Manpower, Elite Manpower, Sok Leap Metrey, Ung Rithy Group and Win Win Manpower.

At least two of them are linked to top officials with direct control over immigration and labor issues. Sok Leap is owned by Seng Toussita, the daughter of Seng Sakada, director of the Labor Ministry’s labor department. Ung Seang Rithy, the sister of the Interior Ministry’s immigration department director, Sok Phal, heads the Ung Rithy Group.

At the workshop, the ministry’s deputy labor department director, Nguy Rith, said they were selected because of their experience sending workers overseas and for “not having any issues.”
Both Sok Leap and Ung Rithy, however, were among three companies the government chose to send maids to Singapore for a 2013 pilot program.

That program never attracted the 400 workers for which it aimed, however, after several women returned with claims of having their passports confiscated, and of being overworked and underfed. Several years ago, some NGOs also filed complaints with the government against the Ung Rithy Group on behalf of women who returned from Malaysia claiming debt bondage, forced confinement and being recruited while underage. No one was ever prosecuted over the claims, which the agency denied.

The government is touting Hong Kong as a far safer destination for maids than Malaysia or even Singapore, as foreign maids enjoy the same labor rights as locals, with guaranteed days off, generous maternity leave, mandatory health insurance and even the right to unionize.

“It’s the freedom city, the most [economic] freedom…in the world,” said Simon Liu, chairman of the Cambodian Human Resources Development Association of Hong Kong, which will represent Cambodia’s Labor Ministry in the city for the pilot.

“Don’t worry. One country, two systems,” Mr. Liu said, repeating Beijing’s policy to preserve Hong Kong’s economic and social freedoms.

There is still some confusion over when the first maids are likely to arrive. Mr. Rith said it could be as early as next month.

Mr. Liu conceded that fears of China and bad memories of Malaysia, which until recently was off limits to Cambodian maids because of several cases of abuse there, have dampened interest in Hong Kong. But he expected the first few maids to arrive by October.

An Bunhak, president of the Manpower Association of Cambodia, said he expected to see the first maids arrive in November or December, and to have up to 200 in Hong Kong by the end of this year. Mr. Bunhak, who also runs Top Manpower, said they were aiming to have 2,000 maids in Hong Kong within a year.
But Mr. Rith said it will all depend on demand, and whether Hong Kong families will want the maids Cambodia has to offer.

“Right now Hong Kong has a big demand,” he said after the workshop. “It’s a matter of whether we can send over workers to fill that demand, because their training and standards are high, so we need to work on meeting that standard.”

As for the spotty records of some of the recruitment agencies selected for the pilot, Mr. Rith said no one was perfect. “This is a small matter and has already been solved,” he said. “Every company, even with just three or four staff, you can still have problems, let alone when you’re sending people across borders.”

Mr. Bunhak, however, also speaking after the workshop, conceded there was room for improvement among some agencies, without singling any out, and that more regular meetings would be a good start.

“We need all six agencies to review the progress and consider what needs to be improved,” he said. “If you do not meet for three years, you never know what needs to be improved. You never find the mistake.”
Mr. Bunhak said he was also in the midst of drawing up an industry-wide code of conduct.

But labor rights advocates say what Cambodia’s foreign maids need most is a Labor Ministry that keeps the country’s recruitment agencies on a much shorter leash—a tough ask, they add, when some of them are bound by blood. They say making sure the agencies arm the maids with a working knowledge of the local language will be key.

The maids heading to Hong Kong are to get 854 hours of training before they leave, with 600 of them learning Cantonese, all squeezed into three months.

Chhan Sokunthea, who heads the women’s and children’s rights program for rights group Adhoc, said she was encouraged by what she heard at the workshop and that the Labor Ministry had stepped up its response to reports of abuse in recent years.

But she remained worried that the roughly $2,000 Cambodians will likely to have to pay the agencies to join the pilot program could drive many poor families into dangerous levels of debt and that three months won’t get them the language skills they’ll need to keep themselves safe.

“The Cambodian workers, they are unskilled, they cannot read and write. It’s very difficult for them,” she said. “They cannot read or write Cambodian. How can they learn Chinese in a few months?”

The Labor Ministry insists the training program being set up for the Hong Kong pilot will be better than those that came before. Hong Kong’s labor and welfare secretary, Law Chi-kwong, is set to arrive in Phnom Penh today to meet with Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng about the pilot and tour the six participating recruitment agencies.


By: Zsombor Peter and Hang Sokunthea, Bangkok Post

Published on: 10 August, 2017

Underage maids from Myanmar seek help in Singapore

About 240,000 foreign maids work in Singaporean homes, but those from Myanmar are among the most vulnerable.

Girls from Myanmar, some as young as 15, continue to work illegally as maids in Singapore, despite both countries banning the practice, NGOs say.

Since 2014, the government of Myanmar has imposed a ban on domestic workers going to Singapore.

But a shelter for domestic workers in Singapore is reporting increasing numbers of women from Myanmar seeking help. Some of them are teenagers. Under Singaporean law, foreign domestic workers must be at least 23 years old.

“There are also workers who are definitely under 18. It seems to be a particular problem with the Myanmar women” John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too

Last year, 272 maids from Myanmar sought help at the shelter, up from 155 in 2015.

“We are seeing more Myanmar domestic workers coming for help,” says Chok. “Previously, it used to be more Filipinos, Indonesians. There are some weeks in our shelter where up to 40 percent could be from Myanmar.”

101 East investigation revealed that recruitment agents in Myanmar were giving girls passports with fake birthdates before sending them to work in Singapore.

A 15-year-old girl told 101 East she was given false documents and told to lie about her age before she was taken to Singapore, where she says she looked after two children and was forced to do housework until late at night.

A survey by Transient Workers Count Too, another non-governmental organisation, last year found that 16 of the 55 Myanmar domestic workers they interviewed had been under the age of 23 when they arrived in Singapore.

“There are also workers who are definitely under 18, It seems to be a particular problem with the Myanmar women.” says the group’s John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too

Ineffective mechanisms

Several cases involving maids from Myanmar working in Singapore have been reported by the Myanmar media in recent months.

In June, a 25-year-old Myanmar woman reportedly died after plunging from the 18th floor of an apartment building in Singapore.

In another recent case, it was reported that a 15-year-old domestic helper sustained spinal injuries after falling from her employer’s ninth-floor apartment.

Chok says little has changed since the Myanmar government banned domestic workers from coming to Singapore three years ago.

” The women who most need help are the ones who are least able to access it ” John Gee, Transient Workers Count Too

“We’re not seeing the ban have any real impact on the ground in terms of domestic workers being allowed to come to Singapore,” she says. “For us, it’s really business as usual.”

The Myanmar Embassy in Singapore did not respond to requests for comment.

But the Singapore government’s Ministry of Manpower said the number of underage foreign domestic workers was “low”.

A Ministry spokesperson said in a statement that it was “important for authorities in the source country to ensure the accuracy of the foreign domestic worker details in the passport”.

The government also expects employment agencies to carry out checks and interviews and examine workers’ documents.

From 2012 to 2016, the ministry took action against nine employment agencies that failed to comply with regulations.

The ministry’s statement did not specify what action was taken, but agencies can face fines of up to S$5,000 ($3,668) and/or six months in prison, as well as having their licence revoked.

Other measures to detect cases of underage maids include the government conducting interviews, particularly with “those who look relatively young”, and a mandatory “settling-in programme” to educate new maids about the age requirements, the statement said. 

‘Stiff fines or jail terms’

About 240,000 foreign maids work in Singaporean homes. Most come from the Philippines and Indonesia but those from Myanmar are among the most vulnerable, according to NGO workers.

Chok says domestic helpers from Myanmar are less likely to speak English and often have no rest days stipulated in their contracts.

“That really adds to their isolation,” she says.

The Myanmar women who come to the NGO’s Singapore shelter report problems ranging from unpaid wages to verbal, physical and sexual abuse by their employers.

Some also complained that their employers did not give them sufficient food, with some given only bread to eat.

“I asked them, ‘What do you do to stave off hunger?’ and they said they just drink water,” Chok says.

Gee, from Transient Workers Count Too, says Myanmar domestic workers are more likely to be confined to their employer’s home and to not have access to a phone.

“The women who most need help are the ones who are least able to access it,” he says.

The Ministry of Manpower said employers or agencies who abuse maids face “stiff fines or jail terms”.

“Abusers of foreign domestic workers face higher penalties of up to 1.5 times the punishment and may be banned from hiring foreign domestic workers in the future,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, at the shelter run by HOME, there is not enough space to accommodate all of the women seeking help, according to Chok.

“It’s running at full capacity always,” she says.

By: Liz Gooch, Aljazeera

Published on: 8 August, 2017

MMN in Media: Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong

It has been recently announced that the first batch of domestic workers from Cambodia will arrive in Hong Kong in the autumn. There are concerns about these workers’ vulnerability to rights violation as new comers. Speakers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Employers’ Association and NGOs including a representative of the Mekong Migration Network (Reiko Harima, Regional Coordinator) discuss the issues surrounding foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong in this an-hour-long radio program.

The program was broadcast live on 26 April 2017


Please click the link below to listen to the full podcast:

Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong


MMN in Media: Why Hong Kong’s plan for Cambodian maids may be hard work all round

The Chinese city has turned to a new source to solve a shortage of foreign domestic workers, but a past deal with Myanmar and an ill-fated scheme in Singapore suggest there will be plenty of problems to iron out

There are 330,000 foreign domestic workers – chiefly from Indonesia and the Philippines- already working in Hong Kong. Photo:AFP

Hong Kong may hope to ease its shortage of domestic workers by welcoming its first batch of maids from Cambodia later this year, but if history is anything to go by the scheme could end up providing more problems than solutions.

Under a new five-year scheme, the first trial group of 1,000 Cambodian workers will arrive in Hong Kong this autumn, adding to the 330,000 foreign domestic workers – chiefly from Indonesia and the Philippines – who already work in the city.

But those five years could well prove tumultuous, worker advocates warn, as both Hong Kong and Cambodia have chequered histories when it comes to the exploitation of such workers.

The success of the deal, they say, will hinge on both sides’ ability to stamp out corrupt practices among recruiters, improve worker training – and on whether the Cambodian government can muster the political willpower to act on cases of abuse.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung, left, and Cambodia’s Minister of Labour and Vocational and Training H.E. Ith Sam Heng signed the domestic helper deal earlier this week. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Cases of abuse of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong surface periodically – in part an almost inevitable consequence of the large numbers working in the city – and often receive widespread media coverage.

Indonesian worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih became a cause célèbre when in January 2014 she accused her Hong Kong employer of subjecting her to six months of physical abuse, with photographs of her injuries spreading through social media and prompting widespread outrage. So well-known did her case become that Time magazine included her on its list of 100 most powerful people that year.

But her case is far from unique; cases of helpers falling to their deaths while cleaning flat windows are not unheard of, while workers frequently complain of loan-sharking and exploitation by employment agencies.

One bad omen for the deal may be the arrangement between Hong Kong and Myanmar in early 2014 that envisaged bringing in 2,000 maids in the first year. Six months after their arrival, about one in five of the first 90 helpers had already returned home as they could not adjust to life in the city.

The Myanmar government later banned its women from working as maids in Singapore or Hong Kong because of concerns over abuse and exploitation.

In recent months, the Hong Kong government has moved to clamp down on exploitative practices, in part by introducing a code of practice for employment agencies.

“The government’s code of practice and more staff to monitor the actions of employment agencies were good steps, but in reality, I don’t think it goes far enough to make the Hong Kong [employment] agencies understand that they have an ongoing duty to ensure the safety of workers,” said Jade Anderson, anti-human trafficking coordinator at the Hong Kong Justice Centre.

“And there is certainly anecdotal evidence of increased vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking for workers coming to Hong Kong without proper support networks or communities.”

Abuses have been very poorly addressed [by Cambodia] with a system that is set for exploitation

Part of the deal between Hong Kong and Cambodia requires the helpers to undergo three months of cooking and health care training prior to their arrival, but Anderson said this was not enough to prevent exploitation and that more education was needed on workers’ legal rights.

“Even after training, their language skills are still not sufficient enough to understand the reams of documentation that agencies place in front of them and ask them to sign. This is one area where there is tremendous scope for exploitation.”

The workers will arrive this autumn from a country where the minimum wage is just US$153 per month, female education levels are low and corruption and exploitation commonplace.

Members of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body at a march to demand increased salaries for domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Government data shows just 65 per cent of Cambodian girls in poor rural areas transition from primary to secondary school and by the time they reach senior years, at least 30 per cent have dropped out. But opposition lawmaker and women’s rights campaigner, Mu Sochua, from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, says the dropout rate could be far higher, with only 14 per cent of female students in rural areas completing high school. As a result, many female Cambodian workers are desperate for higher paying jobs but are largely ill equipped for what the work will entail.

“An estimated two million youth are unskilled labourers in neighbouring countries. This will not improve without a vision, a real investment in the national budget and political will,” she said.

“Abuses have been very poorly addressed [by Cambodia] with a system that is set for exploitation.”

The treatment of Cambodian migrant workers overseas, in such countries as Malaysia and Singapore, has long been a matter of controversy. In 2011, Cambodia banned workers from travelling to Malaysia after repeated cases of abuse surfaced. That decision had an undesired effect – causing workers to go underground, leaving participants even more exposed to exploitation. The ban was lifted in 2015.

Reflecting on Cambodia’s reaction to the abuse in Malaysia, Roiki Harima, managing director of the Mekong Migration Network, said embassies needed to play a bigger role in investigating mistreatment.

“To date, the embassies and consulates have not been responsive and that is something we want to see improved. Rather than bans, countries such as Cambodia need more political willpower to take concrete steps to improve the situation in receiving nations,” she said.

Mu Sochua, centre, a Cambodian opposition lawmaker, says corruption in the country’s own domestic worker recruitment agencies is a major hurdle to establishing a new deal. Photo: AFP

In 2013, Cambodia signed up to an ill-fated pilot scheme to provide Singapore with migrant workers. Alex Au Waipang, of the Singapore-based Transient Workers Count Too, said many Cambodian workers had lacked the support, education and maturity to work overseas. “Being the first in a pioneering batch, there was no community to really help them adjust,” he said, adding that the NGOs were equally unprepared. “Compared to Indonesian or Filipino workers … many Cambodians just wanted to go home. They were not ready to be domestic helpers. They were homesick.”

Like the Hong Kong-Cambodia deal, training was promised as part of the Singapore pilot scheme. But Au said the training was either non-existent or ineffective as many Cambodian workers were familiar with neither modern household amenities nor basic English. “So what were they trained for, we wonder?”

In addition to cultural differences, Au, Sochua and Harima cited falsified documents and qualifications, underage workers, employment agency corruption and the unofficial licensing of rural recruitment agents in Cambodia as ongoing problems.

“Compounding the issues was that the girls were underage, not even adults and potentially not of the education level required,” Au said of the Singapore experience. “About half the cases we saw were like that. There were so many things wrong, I hardly know where to begin.”

Au said Hong Kong needed to inspect the situation in Cambodia as well as recruitment and training agencies in both countries. But above all, it needed to establish a community for the workers. “If we could do it all over again, I would first bring in the Cambodian men,” he said.

“Take the Burmese for example. In Singapore, the men were brought in first, as construction workers, who quickly formed a community because they were out and about, did not live with family and tended to start businesses like restaurants [and visited temples]. Then, all of a sudden, we had access to translators and when the domestic workers began to arrive – sure there was some homesickness – that community took root much faster.”
By: Edouard Morton, South China Morning
Published on: 29 April 2017
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