Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NGOs, Domestic Workers Urge Government to Ratify Labor Conventions To Safeguard Their Rights

Domestic workers join the 13th International Domestic Workers’ Day celebration, themed “Valuing Care Givers and Domestic Workers”, on June 16, 2024, Phnom Penh. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)
Domestic workers join the 13th International Domestic Workers’ Day celebration, themed “Valuing Care Givers and Domestic Workers”, on June 16, 2024, Phnom Penh. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

Oxfam Cambodia and the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) paid tribute to the rights of domestic workers’ on the 13th International Domestic Workers’ Day, themed “Valuing Care Givers and Domestic Workers”, on June 16. It urged the government to ratify the labor convention to ensure the rights and protection of workers.

Domestic workers are persons who work within an employer’s household. They perform a variety of household work from providing care for children and elderly dependents, to housekeeping, including cleaning and household maintenance. Domestic workers are currently ineligible for the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) scheme as they are not recognized by Cambodia’s Labour Law of 1997. 

In Cambodia, an estimated 43% of domestic workers are hired through a service provider. More than half the world’s nearly 38 million domestic workers are in Asia-Pacific. In Cambodia, there are about 240,000 workers, according to a 2018 International Labor Organization (ILO) report

In 2011, the ILO adopted Convention No. 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, recognizing the rights of domestic workers as being equal to other workers, including weekly or monthly leave, working hours, overtime pay, annual leave and appropriate protection against all forms of violence and harassment. 

Domestic workers are among the most vulnerable in Cambodia, according to a 2009 study by the ILO on the workers’ living and working conditions. It said the workers face restrictions on freedom of movement, low wages, no clear employment contract, overtime, insufficient rest, excessive work and are vulnerable to physical, sexual and human trafficking. 

Housewife Srey Vannak, who joined the celebration, told CamboJA News that domestic workers experience various challenges as a majority of them do not possess NSSF cards like garment workers and other low-income earners. This causes problems when they fall sick as they need to use their own money to pay for the treatments.

Although the 48-year-old was not a domestic worker, she used to work as a garment worker, therefore she understood their difficulties and struggles for a support system or representatives to fight for their rights and benefits.

“When domestic workers have NSSF cards, they will have more benefits. I want employers or companies to enable access to NSSF service so that they will have some money for treatment when they are ill,” she said.

Vannak wants other stakeholders to focus more and create a good working environment for domestic workers because “even garment workers possess NSSF cards, proper wages and off days”. 

During the workers’ day event, domestic workers said they faced problems trying to take time off as they do not have annual leave like other employees. In addition, the employer deducts their salary if their service is terminated.

“Firstly, it is difficult to ask for leave because when you ask for it, your money will be deducted. Secondly, the rights and freedoms [are not protected]. Thirdly, the salary is low. Fourthly, there is no employment contract, and finally, workers are harassed by employers and face social discrimination,” domestic workers said.

A man reads a book about domestic workers at the International Domestic Workers’ Day event on June 16, 2024, Phnom Penh. (CamboJA/Sovann Sreypich)

Kim Sry, a domestic worker, said in order to appreciate the value of domestic workers, it is necessary to organize a group of domestic workers to campaign and claim for benefits from the government and relevant institutions. These include ratifying the ILO convention, implementing the Labor and Vocational Training Ministry’s Proclamation 235 so that domestic workers receive equal benefits, and raising domestic workers’ knowledge about their rights.

From an economic point of view, domestic work is an important part of the informal economy, covering more than 75 million people worldwide, including children, said Oxfam Cambodia director Phean Sophoan. More than 76% of women are 15 years of age or older.

She said domestic workers help to create social welfare, streamline employment in all sectors, contribute to increasing the family economy and socio-economic development.

When it comes to seeking government recognition, the latter might pay more attention to groups that are less recognized for having played an important role in the economy.

Sophoan said the government has issued Proclamation No.35 of 2018 on Working Conditions for Domestic Work which determined domestic workers’ working conditions, ensuring appropriate employment and social protection.

In 2017, the Labor Ministry issued Notification No.336 on the registration of informal workers in the NSSF to ensure eligibility for the Health Equity Fund system so that they can receive additional allowance. 

“In terms of implementation, we will see that not many people have been registered by their employers to receive benefits and protections,” Sophoan said.

She expects employers to provide decent wages and working conditions to domestic workers. Domestic workers, on the other hand, should understand their rights and roles, and benefits from the employers, because they are “not slaves”. There is an exchange of wages for the work they do.

Vorn Pao, president of the IDEA, said so far associations and partner organizations have been urging the government to ratify ILO Convention No. 189.

He recalled that during Covid-19, civil society organizations discussed and urged the government to develop a roadmap to ratify the ILO Convention No. 189, but the “new Labor Minister was not interested in this issue”.

“We and our partner organizations would like to send a message to the ministry and relevant institutions to reconsider making a road map to push for the ratification to ensure the rights of domestic workers here and abroad,” said Vorn Pov.

He also called for the implementation of legal documents, like proclamation No.235, and urged the ministry to compel employers of domestic workers to register them with NSSF.

“Without domestic workers, the household economy, community economy and national economy will not grow. Domestic workers are valuable and they are the ‘first doctor’ in a family,” said Pov.

Meanwhile, Seng Phal Davin, deputy director-general of the General Department of Gender Equality and Economic Development under the Ministry of Women’s Affairs said there are three points in the strategic plan and framework for economic activities.

First, it is the ministry’s vision and mission, second, ‘Neary Rattanak Strategy 6’, and third, the overview and action plan which considers welfare.

The ministry would focus on raising awareness among employers and the public to support and value domestic workers, housekeeping and home care providers.

It will also improve the working conditions of domestic workers, especially in accordance with the Labor Ministry’s proclamation No.35 which deals with the provision of appropriate working conditions and access to appropriate welfare protection, Davin said. 

Seng Seav Gech, coordinator of the ILO Social Protection Project, said it was important to jointly urge the government to ratify the 189 convention.

“The ultimate goal is to ensure that domestic workers have labor rights, proper social protection and adherence to labor laws,” Gech said. 

She added that the relevant groups should also work together to gradually implement the terms of the convention, even though Cambodia has not yet ratified it. Thus, two things should be done simultaneously. “While demanding or advocating for the government to ratify it, we are urging them to abide by the terms of the convention,” she explained.

According to the Social Security Law, when a domestic worker goes to work at a place, it means that the person is already an employee. Therefore, their employer should register them with NSSF. Those who failed to register NSSF means that the “employer is illegal”. Therefore, all parties should talk about this issue and disseminate its facts widely.

Oxfam said while the ILO 189 convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers is not ratified, the labor law also does not specifically identify domestic workers. The labor ministry’s Prakas No.235 issued in May 2018 complies with the provisions of the convention as well as Recommendation No.201, but does not include cross-border migrant workers or specify capacity building, and clear mechanisms to protect domestic workers, especially child laborers.

Also, employment contract format standards for domestic workers have not been established yet. Domestic workers have not been fully registered to receive the full benefits of social protection systems and systems, such as health care, occupational risks and maternity. 

At the same time, Oxfam said, the strengthening and capacity building of domestic workers is still very limited because domestic workers are workers who are not considered as having skills like other workers.