Singapore Set for Influx of Cambodian Maids

Recruitment agencies in Singapore are aiming to more than triple the arrival of maids from Cambodia next year, according to Singapore media, despite a troubled pilot program during which some Cambodians claimed they were abused by their employers.

The head of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore, K. Jayaprema, said local maid agencies were planning to bring in 1,000 to 1,200 maids from Cambodia next year as a “conservative estimate,” Singapore’s The Straits Times reported on Friday.

It followed a decision by Singapore’s Manpower Ministry in October to make Cambodia the island nation’s 13th and latest official source country for domestic workers.

Cambodia and Singapore launched a pilot program in 2013 that was to send 400 maids to the island. But according to The Straits Times, local recruitment agencies struggled to fill the slots because of language barriers and other difficulties.

Cambodian Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour and labor department director Seng Sakada could not be reached for comment on Sunday. Deputy Labor department director Chuop Narath said he knew nothing about plans to send more maids to Singapore.

Some of the women who returned from Singapore after the pilot program claimed that their recruitment agencies and employers put them in debt bondage, underpaid their salaries and forced them to work seven-day weeks. One woman accused the elderly father of her employer, with whom she was forced to share a room, of sexual abuse; NGOs say she was forced to drop her complaint with authorities in Singapore in order to secure her return to Cambodia.

Manpower Association of Cambodia president An Bunhak, who also runs one of the largest recruiters in the country, Top Manpower, said the Labor Ministry had recently informed local agencies of Cambodia’s approval as a source country for Singapore.

But Mr. Bunhak said it would probably take months before the details of a formal arrangement between the countries were worked out. He said the Singaporean association’s prediction of another 1,000 maids in 2017 was unrealistic and expected the real number to settle somewhere closer to 400.

Mr. Bunhak blamed some of the problems on local recruiters who failed to fully educate the maids about the details of the program by, for example, neglecting to mention the fluctuations in the exchange rate between the U.S. and Singapore dollars.

He was not aware of the details of the abuse allegations but said Singapore could be trusted more than most other countries in the region to protect the women’s rights.

“I think the Singapore law is very strict,” he said. “You cannot force somebody to work.”

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