Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are we ready to treat our maids as humans yet?

Hi friends,

In 2006, I blogged about the plight of Singapore’s maids.

I said,

“In this day and age, when even the civil service has implemented 5-day weeks, is it so hard to understand that these 150,000 maids are just like you and I, requiring relaxation and rest?

These workers, who are an asset to our national economy, are not slaves and should be accorded the same human rights that you and I take for granted.

How can even a monthly day-off not be mandatory? I just cannot fathom the logic!

Abusive employers use threats of repatriation- when the maids stand to lose their life-savings, to ensure that the latter “toe the line” and not report maltreatment and other infringements.

The fear of forfeiture of the compulsory $5000 security bond, has caused many employers to keep their maids under lock and key. To them, this $5000 far exceeds the maids’ need for freedom.”

It is clear that nothing has changed for these maids in the past 2 years.

It is a crying shame that in modern Singapore, many of these workers do not even have a day off every month, much less in a week like any other Singaporean.

However, I am glad that in a soulless land where money is god, there are some civil society groups such as

1. The National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Singapore,

2. Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and

3. the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) who continue to speak up for the defenceless and underprivileged.

Unfortunately, there was a report recently that TWC2 may not be able to continue as a financially viable organisation for much longer. I will try to find out from TWC2 how we can help them through this rough patch.


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: Visit and support the Daysoff Campaign

NGOs campaign for day off for foreign maids (Straits Times 29.4.08)

The move is in line with MOM's policy on adequate rest for maids

By Keith Lin

THREE civil society groups have joined hands to campaign for foreign domestic workers here to be given a regular day off.

The National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Singapore, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) on Tuesday launched a year-long publicity campaign, calling on employers to give their maids at least one day off a month.

Their efforts centre around a campaign website which, when launched on May Day, will give advice on how employers can give their maids time off and a list of social activities that such workers can take up on their rest day.

Other activities which will commence later this year include talks with students and community groups, research work, and media advertising.

Speaking at the launch of the Day Off campaign, President of Unifem Singapore Saleemah Ismail said: 'Foreign domestic workers are productive individuals who make an extremely valuable contibution to Singapore society, and like any other person, they deserve a day off.'
Feedback from employers shows that some continue to worry about the potential negative consequences that come with giving maids time off, she said.

These include the possibility of such workers getting pregnant or them mixing with bad company.

'Through this campaign, we hope to allay these fears and burst the bubbles of myths...so that in time perhaps the campaign will encourage employers to give their domestic worker a day off a week,' Ms Saleemah said.

There are currently around 180,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. According to a poll conducted by The Straits Times in 2003, only around half receive a regular day off.

Commenting on the initiative, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Tuesday that it is committed to ensuring that the interests and welfare of all foreign workers, including foreign domestic workers (FDWs), are safeguarded while working in Singapore.

'In this regard, the 'Day Off Campaign' to raise awareness among employers on the importance of a rest day for their FDWs is in line with MOM's effort to ensure that FDWs are accorded adequate rest,' said MOM.

The ministry said a standard employment contract for FDWs was introduced in 2006 by accredited maid agencies in Singapore.

The contract provides for rest days for FDWs, but with an option for the FDW to choose compensation in lieu of taking the day off.

Such contracts provide more flexibility to meet the needs of both parties, said MOM, which has, on its part, encouraged employers to grant FDWs rest days in accordance with the contract.
It added that over the years, many steps have been taken to enhance the protection and support for FDWs.

'As a result of our collective education and enforcement efforts, overall 90 per cent of FDWs are happy working in Singapore, and one in three FDWs choose to extend their two-year contract and continue to work under the same employer,' said MOM.

'The number of reports of abuse has remained very small, at around 0.04 per cent of the total FDW population.'


Anonymous said...

Dr Huang,

Be careful you do not get labelled as a Marxist Conspirator, siding with the poor with socialist leanings.


Still if the Govt allows employers to import China utensil / plate washers, work 12 hours per day, 2 days off per month, and paid $1,000 per month, (all published in ST) you think these Pro poor organisations will get heard? We are ruled by MONEY GOD WHERE THE RICH AND FAMOUS CAN SMOKE CIGRETTES INDOORS in IR. One Ring to RULE them all.

Nice try, next.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi anon:
It is indeed shocking that they are going to allow smoking in the IR!! Don't they know that according to Hill & Doll and confirmed by the Marlboro man, that smokiing kills?
On the other hand, the ah peks and ah bengs who cannot find a place to smoke in squeaky clean Singapore now can sneak into the IR for free second hand smoke! How kind of the rulers.
Caveat- the ah peks and ah bengs have to foot their own entrance fee ( $300 izzit?)

aliendoc said...

Many Singaporeans still treat their maids as 2nd class human beings. Look at some of the comments on the Straits Times website for this article http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Story/STIStory_232482.html

Comments range from indignation about having to bear with the risk of losing $5000, & equating a maid with a wanted person (check out comment from Concernperson Wed Apr 30 13:56:53)...boggles my mind!

nofearSingapore said...

Hi aliendoc:
Yes I have read such comments from a section of population which I fear may be the "typical Singaporean". Very negative, mean.

This is the type of Singaporeans who I suspect will not do anything constructive even in an emergency.
I can't remember where I read of how a singaporean was watching a car full of young poly students plunging into a ravine and just STOOD there with a handphone yet not wanting to use it to call 999! When another passer-by rushed near him and asked if he has already called the emergency service, he said, "No! Why don't you call?"

Is there hope for Singapore? I think even in North Korea there are more public-spirited humans !

Vincent said...

My auntie does not even let her Indonesian maid sit on her sofa or at the same table with her. However, she lets her dog sit on her sofa with her. A maid is not equal to her dog in her eyes.

I asked her why she treats her maid like that. She told me you cannot spoil maids or they will walk all over you. She also told me that since they are Malays, they are stupid and heartless. Treat them well and they won't treat you nice any way.

She used to lock her maid at home with her alarm system. Her maid does not know the alarm's password so if she opens the door, the alarm will sound off. Poor thing.

No day offs and constant threats of sending her back home. A living hell.

I look down on people like my auntie who need to mistreat others to make themselves feel good.

family man said...

Unfortunately the rot starts from the government style. If our govt cannot afford a few billions of the reserves to help reduce the price of rice, our staple food, then the message is clear. The govt is a mercenary, and its citizens are expected to fend for itself, while the govt spend billions saving Citibank and UBS. The last I heard in my National Education was that reserves was to help Singapore in times of needs, emergency. If the current food price is not an emergency, but citibank is, then my national education teacher got it all wrong!

If the govt has this mentality that its citizens need to work harder vis a vis the China workers, then do not expect Singaporeans to let up on the maids.

My take is this latest spin is to distract maid-owners from the Mas selamat fiasco, inflation mismanagement with the U T shirt, budget miscalculation etc etc.
Don't get duped.

SHIMURE said...

I think another party which is involved are the maid agencies.

Some agencies select maids incorrectly.

the attached is an article of a maid which escaped from an owner's flat and was injuried. and the owner is to pay hospital bill.

I feel maid agencies need to be more responsible.


HER new maid was under her hire for less than 24 hours before she was gone from thehome.

TNP Pictures: Kua Chee Siong

The employer thought she went missing and made a police report.

Then came the news from the maid agency: The Indonesian maid was 'missing' because she was in hospital with a fractured spine - after jumping out of the window of the employer's second-storey flat in a bid to escape.

Now, Madam Juliana faces a $17,000 bill for the maid's surgery and three-week hospital stay.

The insurance covers up to $5,000, so she still has to cough up $12,000.

She claimed that the maid, MsMartinah, 23, later told her that she had run away because she did not want to work for her, but was forced to by the maid agency.

So Madam Juliana felt Nur Employment Agency should be at least partly responsible for the medical bill.

She has approached both the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) (AEAS) for help.

She said: 'It's so unfair. She was with me for less than 24 hours and now, I'm liable for the bills.

'If she was with us for a long time, it's okay, but she hadn't even done any work.

'Why did the agent push her to work for me when they knew she didn't want to, which resulted in this?'

But the agency's manager disputed Madam Juliana's claims.

He said they had not forced MsMartinah to work for her, and the employer should be responsible for the hospital bills.

However, he said the agency will pay for the maid's repatriation.

Madam Juliana, a sales manager who did not want to use her full name, said she and her husband had hired Ms Martinah last month to look after their three children, aged 8, 5 and 2.

They picked her because she looked strong and had experience looking after children.

But during the initial interview, she said the maid told her she wanted to think about it first.

The next day, the agency called to say the maid could work for her.

She picked up Ms Martinah from the agency on 18 Apr, around 6.30pm.

'She looked upset. I asked her what's wrong, and she said she was tired.'

That night after dinner, she and her husband told Ms Martinah about her duties.

The next day, the family left their five-room Bedok flat at 2.30pm to go to her mother-in-law's house, after leaving instructions on household chores.


At 4.20pm, Madam Juliana called the home to check on the maid and to tell her where the house keys were kept, but no one answered.

The family returned home at 8.10pm to find the unit in darkness, and the maid missing.

They found a handwritten note from Ms Martinah on her bed, which started with: '1,000 sorries for leaving...'

The maid wrote that the work was not suitable for her, and she was going back to find the agent.

The couple called the agency repeatedly without success, so they filed a missing person's report with the police that night.

They did so that night.

The next morning, Madam Juliana found a second handwritten note from Ms Martinah tucked in a window.

On 21 Apr, the agency called her to say the maid was in hospital and needed major surgery.

The medical report stated that she had tried to jump from the flat and was found lying on the ground by a passer-by.

Police investigations are ongoing.

When The New Paper on Sunday spoke to Ms Martinah at the hospital through an interpreter, she said she had tried to escape because the work was 'not suitable'.

She said that a worker at the agency had scolded her repeatedly and told her she had to work.

She added that Madam Juliana's family had not ill-treated her.

As to why she didn't talk to her employer or call the agent, she said: 'Iwas just scared, I wanted to escape.'

Ms Martinah said she wanted to go home to Indonesia once she's discharged from hospital. She then started sobbing uncontrollably.

A man then arrived to discharge MsMartinah. Identifying himself as a manager at Nur Employment Agency, but declining to be named, he said that under the maid's work permit conditions, the employer is responsible for all medical bills.

But he said the agency would pay for Ms Martinah's repatriation and house her until then.

He denied shouting at the maid and said the maid had not been forced to work for Madam Juliana.

He claimed the maid told him that she tried to escape because she had been locked inside.

Both Case and AEAS confirmed Madam Juliana had gone to them for help.

Nur Employment is accredited withAEAS, but is not a CaseTrust- accredited agency.

Case executive director Seah Seng Choon said that based on the information given to them, the employer would be liable for the maid's welfare.

He said: 'In this case, the maid was in the home of the employer at the time of the injury, though for a very short time. Therefore, the employer has to pay for the medical expenses.'

He said Madam Juliana's complaint was one of two lodged against Nur Employment this year. Last year, there was one complaint against the agency.


Madam Juliana said Ms Martinah was their third maid within a year from Nur Employment Agency.

She said they sent the first maid bacl after eight months, claiming she had ill-treated their youngest son. The second was sent back after the Ministry of Manpower found she had previously worked in Singapore under a different identity.

This is the third reported dispute in three months between employers and agencies over maids' medical bills.

Last month, a family was reportedly slapped with a $70,000 bill after their Indonesian maid, 29, fell six storeys from the agent's flat and was hospitalised for 45 days.

The agency argued that even though the family had sent the maid back, her work permit had not been cancelled yet, so the employer had to be responsible for the bill.

In March, another family disputed their Filipino maid's $1,000 Institute of Mental Health bill as they subsequently discovered she had previously been warded in a mental hospital in her home country. The agency claimed it knew nothing about this.