Hundreds of Cambodian maids to work in Hong Kong as shortage looms

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia is recruiting hundreds of maids to work in Hong Kong, an official said Wednesday (Aug 9), as the wealthy city scrambles to meet growing demand for domestic helpers and fend off concerns about exploitation.

Hong Kong is home to more than 300,000 foreign maids, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia.

But a series of high-profile abuse cases have seized global headlines in recent years and threatened to stem the tide of migrant helpers.

Hong Kong has now turned to Cambodia, one of Asia's poorest countries, to ward off a potential maid shortage exacerbated by its rapidly ageing population.

Under the pilot project, six agencies are authorised to recruit the first batch of Cambodian domestic workers for arrival in Hong Kong later this year.

"This is a new opportunity for our people," said Cambodian labour minister Ith Samheng, adding the minimum monthly wage for maids in Hong Kong was US$550.

He said roughly 1,000 domestic helpers would receive training in English and Cantonese and other skills before their departure, which is slated for September.

The official urged recruiters to select "only employers who would provide good working conditions, appropriate accommodation, and respect the rights of workers".

A report last year by the Justice Centre found that one in six foreign maids in Hong Kong are subject to "forced labour".

Rights groups say unscrupulous employment agencies plunge helpers into debt and withhold their passports, while local restrictions such as requiring them to live with their employers make it difficult to escape abuse.

Last September hundreds of maids marched through Hong Kong after several helpers fell to their deaths as they tried to clean tower block windows.

Myanmar began sending domestic workers to the city in 2014. But most returned home within months and the government later banned its women from working in Hong Kong over abuse concerns.