The Ministry of Tourism has introduced measures to strengthen the employment rights and access to social services of women working in the informal entertainment industry, in line with the recommendations of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Ministry secretary of state Hun Dany chaired a January 30 meeting on the management of informal workers at karaoke clubs, bars, discos, beer gardens and massage parlours.

The meeting was held to address the premier’s concerns that women working in the informal economy, especially in the entertainment sector, were experiencing discrimination and poor working conditions.

“Women hold an important place in the economy. The ministry considers them indispensable stakeholders. They make an active contribution to improving the living standards of families, communities and drive socio-economic growth,” she said.

“The ministry has made efforts to introduce programmes to promote the rights and increase the empowerment of women in the tourism industry. This is important for the sustainable and inclusive development of the sector,” she added.

According to the ministry, workers in the sector are protected by tourism law and are entitled to equitable benefits from the development of the industry.

“The law was not only created to ensure the effective management and development of the tourism sector, but also contributes to the preservation and protection of natural resources, culture and customs. It aims to ensure that the people gain equal benefits from economic growth, and ensures that women and children are safe, dignified, and free from discrimination, exploitation or trafficking,” she said.

Dany requested that all capital and provincial governors cooperate with the ministry and the provincial tourism departments to effectively manage the industry.

According to the ministry, there are 928 karaoke, bar, discotheque and beer garden businesses registered across the Kingdom, of which 759 are karaoke lounges, 69 bars and discotheques and 100 beer gardens.

There are 419 massage-spa businesses, with 24,125 people employed, 14,641 of them women.

Dany also recommended that the Department of Entertainment Services cooperate with the Department of Tourism Vocational Training to provide training to staff in the informal economy.

“This way, they will increase their incomes and improve their living standards,” she said.

“The capital and provincial tourism departments should work to establish women’s groups that will serve as points of contact to manage, train or offer other support to women working in the informal economy,” she added.

While addressing a January 29 press conference on the results of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) extraordinary assembly, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party – if re-elected – would provide ID poor cards and National Social Security Fund (NSSF) membership to any women who were struggling.

“The government has a strict policy of taking care of women who work in the entertainment sector by providing NSSF cards and offering access to legal assistance to protect their rights and freedoms should they need it,” he added.

Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economy (IDEA), said he fully supported any policy that supported women working in the entertainment sector, but believed the state should regulate the sector, especially when it came to the provision of fair wages.

“This would allow them to take full advantage of labour laws. They could form unions to safeguard their rights and new specific legislation could be created to protect them,” he added.

“In order to improve the working conditions of many of these women, the government should implement a policy which obligates employers to be responsible for the safety and security of their staff,” he said.

Pov said an excellent initiative would be to regulate salaries so that none of the workers feel they are forced to sell themselves to make a living.

In addition, he would like to see the government support the introduction of a code of conduct for the customers of entertainment venues, as this would lead to reduction in the harassment or exploitation of workers.

Mao Mab, head of the women and children’s division at rights group Adhoc, said that as a civil society organisation working to protect women’s rights, Adhoc applauded the intention to arrange lawyers for women who work in the entertainment sector.

“Women working in the entertainment industry often face abuse and harassment from guests, especially the rich and powerful. What is important to us – as a women’s rights organisation – is to make sure the new policy is implemented fairly and transparently,” she added.

“We applaud the decision to provide these women with legal representation. In addition to this important step, they should have increased access to social support services, especially health care,” she continued.

She stressed the importance of applying legal protection equally, as the unequal relationship between entertainment workers and wealthy or powerful customers had led to differing standards being applied in the past.