Saturday, May 31, 2008

No Days-off for FDW (Foreign Domestic Workers): Letter to MOM and newspaper editors

NB: The reply from MOM at the bottom of this post.

Hi friends,

I have written the following letter to the editors of some newspapers and MOM ( Ministry of Manpower).

The letter is self-explanatory as is my disappointment.

From surveys, only 50% of our FDW ( Foreign Domestic Workers ie domestic maids) have a day-off a month. This means that 50% of about 200000-250000 FDW's work almost 365 days a year!

My views are well known on this and I have already written to the newspapers and on my blog several times already.

It seems that the government is under no pressure at all from Singaporeans to change its stance. It seems that it is too much to ask that families chip in to help look after junior or the elderly's in the home! Not one day a week- not one day a month-not one day a year!

I wonder how the families in countries where having maids/butlers are the privilege of the super-rich survive?

Anyone who does not know how to wash clothes, dry clothes,iron clothes,mopping the floor etc please email me. I will teach you! My cooking sucks but everything else I can do. It is simple!

I have not changed diapers for decades now but it is not difficult! Taking care of the senior folks is just taking the time to be with them and loving them!

Any idea how else we can help achieve the aim of having first world working environment by getting one day off for all workers at least once a week? (not just once a month).

How can NGO's and maid agencies do their part? Grassroot organisations can do their part in showing indignation too? Don't always have to agree with everything the MP or Minister say- they are not always right and should be told that!


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: On MOM's website- they promise to reply in 3 days. I will give them time to revert to me.

The Letter:

28 May, 2008

Dear Editor,

I am deeply disappointed that the Manpower Ministry (MOM) has once again decided not to legislate a mandatory rest day for foreign domestic workers (FDWs).

Why FDWs need a rest day

The arguments for such a rest day are already well known and include:
1. allows these workers to relax and unwind from stressful working environment
2. allows abuses to be reported
3. to have to work without rest is akin to slavery

To have a standard contract which provides for rest days but with an option for the FDW to be compensated should they be made to work on the day off is as good as not having such a contract.

The MOM has also mentioned in a previous response to the “Daysoff” campaign by some NGO’s that “many steps have been taken to enhance the protection and support for FDWs”

How does MOM protect and support FDWs?

Could the MOM tell us:

1. How does it know that the FDW voluntarily works on her rest day? The employer says so?

2. What constitutes fair compensation in lieu of this rest day? Trust the employer to do the right thing?

3. In extreme cases where FDWs are not allowed to use phones or socialise with neighbours, what are the available avenues to report abuses?

4.Would it work with NGOs to have a system where those FDWs who do not have a rest day are checked on at a regular basis to ensure their continued welfare?


The MOM has missed a golden opportunity to seize the moral high ground and put in place policies which better reflect a First World nation. Instead it has succumbed to pressure and chosen the status quo- the easy way out.

It will be a long time before Singaporeans learn that taking care of their elderly and their babies are the shared responsibility of each family member. And that the FDW is a worker, not a slave!

Cc: Ministry of Manpower

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

9th June 2008 (Reply from MOM)

Dear Dr Huang,

I refer to your letter dated 28 May 2008.

2 The standard employment contract for a FDW provides a contractual basis to agree upon the terms of employment and employment benefits for the worker. The contract currently provides for an FDW to be given rest days, and by mutual consent, that the FDW be compensated if she forgoes taking the rest day. This allows for a flexible way for both parties to discuss and agree to any contractual obligations. Legislation to mandate rest days would instil rigidity, and may not be in the interests of FDWs who may prefer to forgo her day off in lieu of compensation. Prescribing mandatory rest days will also result in inconvenience for households since the work duties required of FDWs vary. For example, some households may have elderly or infirm members with special needs who require constant attention, and may find it difficult for the employer to balance his work and family commitments if the domestic worker is away for a prescribed period every week. The Ministry is therefore of the view that having a standard employment contract provides flexibility for both the employer and the FDW to meet their respective needs.

3 Regarding your queries on alternative avenues for FDWs (beside calling the embassies, NGOs, Police and MOM's helplines) to report abuses, you may wish to know that Employment Agencies are required (under accreditation criteria) to conduct house visits or call to check on the FDW's well-being especially during the initial period of employment to ensure that the FDW is adjusting well to her new work environment. MOM also randomly call up and interview FDWs, especially those who work here for the first time to find out if they have any well-being issues. These measures directly reach out to FDWs and provide them with an opportunity to report on any maltreatment.

4 We would like to thank you for your concerns and feedback on the matter.

N S S (Ms) (Name disguised)
Customer Relations Executive
Customer Relations Branch .Foreign Manpower Management Division. Ministry of Manpower .

PS: Not published. Reply by MOM above

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

English and frontline foreign workers: Letter to the editor

Hi Friends,

The letter was published in both Today and Mypaper on 26.5.08.
Today: click here
Mypaper: click here
Straits Times: rejected ( you can't beat them all)

I am posting it here for the records.

The Letter

Dear Editor,

Win-win solution for new (non-English speaking) service workers

I refer to the ongoing debate about foreign workers in the front-line service industry and whether English proficiency entry test should be a prerequisite.

Looking at the situation superficially, the answer seems obvious at first. As English is our lingua franca and as English proficiency is already required for new domestic maids, basic English should be required.

However, casual conversations with business owners in the food and beverage (F&B) and retail industry have convinced me that the problem is less clear cut than that. There is indeed a dearth of affordable workers and getting any worker now is difficult much less English-speaking ones. All businesses want to have workers that meet the needs of their customers. In our competitive marketplace, customers vote with their feet.

Having said that, we cannot ignore the genuine concerns of English-speaking Singaporeans who are not able to communicate effectively with these mainly new Chinese workers. Workers from the Phillipines and Vietnam etc often have higher standards of English.

May I then propose a compromise win-win solution.

Continue to allow the liberal inflow of service workers where needed, but make the passing of an English proficiency test a requirement for renewal of their working permit. I am certain that within one year (or other stipulated period), these generally educated and motivated workers will be able to upgrade themselves – either at the sponsors’ or at their own expense, and then be able to seamlessly integrate into our workforce.

The end-result will be satisfactory to all of us ie English-speaking service workers contributing to our economy; profitable businesses and an impetus for the further development of English language course industry.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Monday, May 19, 2008

ASEAN, please expel Burma

Dear Friends,

I sent the following letter to the Forum page last nght in response to Foreign Minister George Yeo’s statements about Burma. Yes, I know it was the eve of Vesak Day but I was really "Tak Boleh Tahan"(Malay for "cannot take it anymore") and could not just ignore the crimes of these Burmese junta and enjoy my holiday!

In brief, Yeo said,

“We must respect the autonomy of countries and accept the fact that they know local situations better than foreign people ever can”


“I don’t see how this (ie force-fed aid) can be done because if we try to do that, it will only make the situation worse and it will increase the suffering of the people in Myanmar”

Coincidentally, Alex Au has also just posted an article (read Burma should be suspended from ASEAN) of a similar vein calling on ASEAN to suspend Burma’s membership. I think suspension is too lenient- expulsion would be more appropriate.

I am not too hopeful that my letter will see the light of day in the print edition- but where there is life, there is hope!


Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: Can someone forward me the digital version of the Sunday Times article that quoted George Yeo saying those inappropriate statements? Thank you

The letter to the Editor of MSM (Mainstream Media) Forum Page

19 May, 2008

Dear Editor,

I am very disappointed by the sentiments expressed by our Foreign Minister George Yeo.

He said in response to reporters’ concern about the inexplicably poor response of Burma’s junta to do more for its own people and whether aid can be force-fed to this ASEAN nation,

“We must respect the autonomy of countries and accept the fact that they know local situations better than foreign people ever can”


“I don’t see how this (ie force-fed aid) can be done because if we try to do that, it will only make the situation worse and it will increase the suffering of the people in Myanmar”

ASEAN had seen it fit to invite Burma to be a member but membership must entail both privileges and obligations. If any member ceases to discharge her duties to her citizens, more must be done by ASEAN to encourage this member to fall in line with internationally accepted standards. If a member remains intransigent, expulsion must be an option to seriously consider.

If ASEAN does nothing, it will risk being labelled at best an “old boys’ club” and at worse a collaborator of a human rights violator.

What must Burma do before we say “Enough is enough”? Its leaders had disregarded an election that it had lost, kept a celebrated Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi , incarcerated for decades and now this non-chalant attitude to its people’s sufferings.

Truth be told Minister, whatever anyone does cannot “increase the suffering” more than what Burma’s poor citizens are undergoing now.

ASEAN must stop sitting on its hands and desist from giving Burma’s military junta any more encouragement to go about business as usual!

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Link: ASEAN meets to discuss about Burma ( No Action Talk Only - NATO)

Friday, May 09, 2008

Burma’s xenophobic actions leave me almost speechless!

Hi Friends,

Can anyone other than the 20-30 generals who constantly surround the despotic Senior General Than Shwe really understand what is going on?

Nargis had come and gone and left tens of thousands dead in its trail and now hundreds of thousands of folks throughout the Burmese country-side are in dire need of food, water and shelter. If they do not get these, disease and neglect will finish off what the cyclone did not.

The whole world had responded to the junta’s initial desperate call for help and scores of countries and NGO’s had mobilised their resources and are now just waiting at airports, seaports and at Burma’s borders for the go-ahead to pour in the aid where it is most needed.

Yet, the junta is continuing to do what it does best- confounding the whole world with its intransigence!

"Senior General Than Shwe, you intend to finish off what Nargis and its aftermath could not? Where is your humanity? Have you no conscience?"

Realistically what can we do? Just watch and hope .. and curse old despotic dictators!

Here are some other responses…

1. World Food Programme has halted aid shipments to Burma after the contents of its first delivery were impounded…

2. Myanmar nationals plan to help agencies deliver humanitarian aid

…because “As we are Myanmar nationals, we don't need visas, so we can go in fast to distribute the aid”

3.ASEAN chief says Myanmar must open up 'before it's too late'
The typical ASEAN response: Talk, talk and more talk.

4. Go in like Rambo…US mulls dropping food and aid into Myanmar

I really tried to be level-headed and apolitical about the whole issue but I now admit that it is not possible to be neutral about the Burmese junta. You either hate them or abhor them! No two ways about it!

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: But I am an optimist- I have already donated and hope that my measly contribution will help someone.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Burma's cyclone disaster: Time for unconditional giving

Please donate generously through:

1. Red Cross Singapore
2. Mercy Relief
3. World Vision

The latest casualty figures are much higher than expected- it could be more than 100,000!

Hi Friends,

The people of Burma really have it bad.

They face yet again another tragedy of immense proportions- but this time not man-made.

Notwithstanding what I think about the wrongful incarceration of Aung San Suu Khyi, or about the despotic military regime, I will donate to humanitarian relief for the cyclone catastrophe.

Fellow human beings are suffering in a fellow ASEAN country. Another father, brother, sister or child is now waiting for desperate aid from us.

This is not the time for politics-it is the time for action.

Give generously,

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Link: Eyewitness accounts (BBC)

Myanmar says more than 10,000 killed in cyclone

AFP report in Channelnewsasia website (6th May 2008)

YANGON: Myanmar said on Monday more than 10,000 people died in the cyclone that battered the impoverished nation, whose military rulers made a rare appeal for international help to cope with the tragedy.

Reeling from the weekend disaster, which also left thousands missing, the Southeast Asian country warned that the staggering death toll could still rise further.

"There could be more casualties," said Nyan Win, foreign minister of the military junta which has ruled the country with an iron fist for decades, and normally puts tight restrictions on aid agencies from the outside world.

"We will welcome help like this from other countries, because our people are in difficulty," he said.

Governments around the world pledged help for a country that has more often earned the ire of the international community, not least for keeping democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in detention for much of the past two decades.

Even the United States, which tightened sanctions on Myanmar in the wake of a crackdown on anti-junta protests last year in which the UN says 31 people were killed, offered emergency aid and put a disaster response team on standby.

But US First Lady Laura Bush accused the regime of failing to issue a "timely warning" to those in the path of one of the worst storms here in recent memory.

State television showed images of entire communities that had flooded since Tropical Cyclone Nargis struck late Friday near the mouth of the Ayeyawaddy (Irrawaddy) river, about 220 kilometres southwest of Yangon.

"According to the latest information, more than 10,000 people were killed," Nyan Win said after briefing foreign diplomats.

"Information is still being collected, and there could be more casualties."

The United Nations said hundreds of thousands of people had been left homeless when the storm, packing winds of 190 kilometres per hour, ripped through the countryside, destroying whole villages in its fury.

Thousands of buildings were flattened as the cyclone tore power lines to shreds, uprooted trees that blocked key roads and disrupted water supplies in the main city and former capital, Yangon.

"I haven't seen anything like this in my whole life," one elderly resident told AFP.

The announcement of the new death toll came as aid organisations were battling the devastation on the ground and the difficulties of getting supplies and personnel into one of the world's most isolated nations.

The International Federation of the Red Cross said in a preliminary estimate that several villages had been destroyed - wiped out by one of the worst storms here in memory.

Richard Horsey, a UN official in neighbouring Thailand, said that several hundred thousand people had been left homeless and without drinking water across a broad swathe of the country.

"If we look at the emergency needs for shelter and drinking water, there are several hundred thousand people who will need urgent assistance," he told AFP.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "very much alarmed" by news of the high death toll, vowing that the world body would "do whatever (necessary) to provide urgent humanitarian assistance."

A spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the ruling generals had "shown their disposition to receive international aid" but that methods of delivery had not been decided.

In Washington, Bush echoed calls made by Britain and Germany, urging the junta not to delay accepting the global offers of help.

"The United States stands prepared to provide an assistance team and much-needed supplies to Burma, as soon as the Burmese government accepts our offer," she told a White House news conference.

"The government of Burma should accept this team quickly, as well as other offers of international assistance."

The European Union released two million euros (three million dollars) in initial emergency aid. Germany, India, Japan, Norway and Sweden also quickly pledged to help.

The military government said Saturday's referendum on a new constitution intended to usher in democracy would go ahead, but many residents said they had more pressing problems.

"We don't want any democracy," said one man queuing urgently at a neighbour's well. "We just want water now." - AFP/de