Working grueling hours, denied medical treatment and paid a pittance—former domestic worker Ham Savath’s claims sound very much like the now-infamous tales of abuse endured by Cambodian domestic workers in Malaysia.
But Ms. Savath has never set foot outside Cambodia. The 37-year-old spent a decade as a live-in maid in Phnom Penh, where, she says, she often worked more than 12 hours a day and earned just $50 a month.
“Sometimes the employer was really good. When they ate some food, we could also eat food,” said Ms. Savath, who is now a cleaner on Koh Pich island, where she works regular hours and receives $120 a month.
But her employers weren’t always so kind.
“One time, with another employer, when I slipped, I had an injury to my arm and thought I needed to go to the hospital, but they wouldn’t take me,” Ms. Savuth said.
“When I wanted to take a day off, they threatened to cut my salary,” she added. “When we had problems with employers, we didn’t know who to go to for help.”
The suffering of maids in foreign lands has been well documented, but many domestic workers face abuse within the country’s borders, according to the Cambodian Domestic Worker Network (CDWN).
Unlike garment workers and others working in the formal sector, whose rights are theoretically safeguarded under the 1997 Labor Law, maids and other workers in the informal sector have no statutory protection, often leaving them at the mercy of their bosses.
On Monday, to coincide with Domestic Workers’ Day, dozens of CDWN members marched to the Ministry of Labor to present officials with a petition demanding equal treatment under the law.
Vun Samphors, president of the CDWN, said that while her organization, which was established in 2011, had just 368 members, there were an estimated 240,000 domestic workers across Cambodia, but most were unable to speak out.
“Now through the media it’s easier for us to work with the maids, but still we find it hard to communicate with them because mostly they only stay in the homes,” she said.
“The employers do not let them communicate with other people,” she added. “It’s hard for most of the maids to exercise their rights because many of them are illiterate.”
Domestic worker Nguon Naren, 52, joined Monday’s rally to protest against what she called “slave-like” conditions.
“I was begging and crying to ask [my former employers] to pay half of my salary two days early so that I could pay for my son’s hospital treatment, but they still refused to give it to me, so I decided to quit my work,” she said.
“They considered me like their slave to serve them anytime,” she said. “Maids do not have rights like garment workers to protest or strike and no one cares about us.”