Fourteen Cambodian maids flew to Hong Kong yesterday with the Labour Ministry assuring their safety and one rights group director voicing concern over working conditions.
Two companies, the Ung Rithy Group and Elite Manpower Agency, were given permission to send the maids.
While waiting for her flight at Phnom Penh International Airport, Moa Srey Mom, a 26-year-old from Kampong Thom province, said this would be her second time working abroad after working in Malaysia for three years.
“I totally believe we will be successful working as maids in Hong Kong because the company trained me and the other maids on language, culture and housework,” she said.
Sek Malai, a 24-year-old from Kampong Cham province, said this would be her first experience working abroad, saying she decided to migrate because her family is poor.
“In Phnom Penh, I worked as a factory worker. I heard you could get a high salary working in Hong Kong. I want to try to support my family,” she said.
Ms Malai’s 67-year-old mother, Suy Toch, said she agreed with her daughter’s decision to try working abroad.
“I used to hear that working abroad was difficult and abusive, but my daughter wants to try it. Before I was worried,” she said. “I hope my daughter and the other maids are safe and are happy when they return home.”
Seng Phatama, a representative of Ung Rithy Group, said her company sent eight maids in the first departure group yesterday.
She said most of the maids the company selected had never worked abroad. The company has a contract with the Labour Ministry to train them for at least three months before departure.
“They will work as a maid for eight hours a day following the Labour Law and work only six days per week. They get one day off per week so the employer does not force them to work overtime,” she said. “What’s special for them is they will get a salary of more than $570 per month while in Malaysia they would only get more than $100 per month.”
Chan Sotheary, administrative manager for Elite Manpower, said all maids have a smartphone containing contact details for the company as well as Cambodian and Hong Kong authorities in case they have any difficulty with their employer.
Ms Sotheary said Elite Manpower sent six maids yesterday.
“We trained them in English and Chinese so they can speak with their employer every day. We also trained them in household tasks and how to maintain good rapport with their employer,” she said.
“Hong Kong is a new market for our company for the recruitment of maids so we will be in touch with them closely.”
Nguy Rith, deputy director of the Labour Ministry’s labour department, said that before sending maids to Hong Kong for the first time, both countries took great measures to ensure proper working conditions.
He said the maids were trained well before departure and Hong Kong authorities selected only kind employers, those who paid heed to working conditions and had no history of mistreating domestic helpers.
“We are happy today to see Cambodian workers flying to Hong Kong for the first time after getting sufficient training from their company,” he said.
“Hong Kong is a country that strictly implements the law. They are getting maids from us that received training following their standards. We hope this program is successful.”
He added that the ministry plans to send 1,000 maids to Hong Kong next year, but the ministry must train them first.
“If Hong Kong employers favour our maids then we will send more next year,” he said. “If any unlicensed brokers try to lure recruits, please report to authorities. We will take action.”
Moen Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said that working conditions in Hong Kong were probably better than Malaysia.
“We will follow up with the maids in Hong Kong to see if there is any violence or mistreatment from their employer. I am still worried. We are afraid some employers will be violent or mistreat them,” he said.
“Even though Hong Kong obeys human rights and working conditions, it doesn’t mean that all employers will.”
In November, the Labour Ministry expected that about 20 domestic helpers could leave for Hong Kong in December after both countries signed an agreement to send maids for the first time.
In addition to Elite Manpower and the Ung Rithy Group, the ministry approved Top Manpower, Anny Rita Best Manpower, Sok Leap Metrey, and Win Win Manpower Service.
Hong Kong Labour Secretary Law Chi-Kwong, who visited Cambodia for three days in August, said his government had made every effort to try to protect domestic helpers in Hong Kong, and assured that the workers would not face difficulties.
Labour Minister Ith Samheng previously confirmed that Hong Kong has guaranteed safe, humane and well-paying positions, a $550 monthly salary, meals and free accommodation.