The Women’s Affairs Ministry yesterday highlighted the plight of domestic workers, noting that they are vulnerable and are in need of social protection services.
More than 250 domestic workers, government officials and members of civil society gathered yesterday to mark International Domestic Worker’s Day.
Soth Sithon, director of the Women Affairs Ministry’s economic development department, said during her speech that Cambodia has seen a boom in its labour force. Ms Sithon said eight out of ten women aged between 15 and 64 are in the Kingdom’s labour force.
“We noted that half of women who work are considered vulnerable because they are domestic workers – individuals who work alone, without help from others, and would often migrate to find a job,” Ms Sithon said. “What they do is valuable.”
She said about 60 percent of young women leave their homes to pursue employment in the capital. Ms Sithon said these women seek employment in the garment, domestic work, construction, entertainment, and retail industries, among others.
“There are more than 240,000 domestic workers and the majority are women,” Ms Sithon said. “We do not have surveys on domestic workers, but we can see they are often in vulnerable situations because they are made to work overtime, without a contract, for low wages.”
She noted that they do not yet have benefits provided by social protection services.
“Domestic workers do really valuable work because it’s part of our national economic growth,” Ms Sithon said. “There are many women involved.”
She said that due to the high value placed upon domestic workers, the government must recognise their plight and give them access to social protection services.
“I want domestic workers to become formal workers and get social protection and protection against violence,” Ms Sithon. “International Domestic Worker’s Day is for them to be able to identify problems and join together to solve them.”
Von Samphors, president of the Cambodian Domestic Worker Network, yesterday said despite improvements made to empower domestic workers, progress has been slow.
“Overall, the situation is still bad, but [domestic workers] dare to speak up,” Ms Samphors said. “Before they did not speak out or not willing to negotiate with homeowners because they feared losing their job.”
“They are braver now and they are not easily scared any more,” she added. “They are not afraid to address problems and abuse by homeowners.”
According to the International Labour Organisation, there are 67 million domestic workers worldwide, noting that the number steadily increases in developed and developing countries.
“Even though a substantial number of men work in the sector – often as gardeners, drivers or butlers – it remains a highly feminised sector: 80 percent of all domestic workers are women,” ILO added.
It said that domestic workers around the world often face low wages, excessive long hours, have no guaranteed days of rest, and at times are vulnerable to physical, mental and sexual abuse or restrictions on the freedom of movement.
It also noted that legislation plays an important role in curbing abuse.
“Exploitation of domestic workers can partly be attributed to gaps in national labour and employment legislation, and often reflects discrimination along the lines of sex, race and caste,” it said.
Keo Roeun, 31, said she works as a domestic worker for a family in Phnom Penh. Ms Roeun said during the three years she has worked with the family, her wage has not substantially increased.
“Since I started working, my salary was only increased by only $30, but my work is not hard because my employers are educated and they know the value of my job,” she said, noting that she currently receives $190 per month from her employers.