Domestic Workers in Singapore

Domestic workers are sometimes undervalued by several parties,
perhaps because: they are powerless or because they come from poor and uneducated background or because they are “lower” in status

The feminization of migrant labour clearly is a transnational issue.

“their status as women, migrants or non-nationals and as workers in gender segregated labor market makes international female migrant workers particularly vulnerable to various forms of discrimination, exploitation and abuse.” (Lim And Oishi)

The video above is a very clear description of the life of the domestic workers in Singapore.

The influx of foreign domestic workers in Singapore began in the late 1970s as a response to a shortage for labour and the rising trend for Singaporean women to join the workforce. There were 201,000 female domestic workers in Singapore on Work Permits reported by the Ministry of Manpower at end of 2010. That made it about one for every five households in the country. The majority of these domestic workers come from Indonesia and the Philippines; smaller numbers come from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Thailand and Bangladesh. 

Most of these women are trying to support their families.Mostly the reason why they go overseas to work as domestic workers is because they could not find job in their home countries.

Working in Singapore enables domestic workers to earn more money than if they work in their own countries, thanks to its level of economic development. However this should not be seen as a reason for the employers to pay them little.  Migrant domestic workers earn half the wages of Singaporean workers in similar occupations, such as cleaners or gardeners. Key labour conditions, such as wages, hours of work, and salary deductions are left to employers and agencies, while domestic workers have little or no bargaining power.

For labour-sending countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Thailand, the “export” of labour has become an increasingly important strategy for addressing unemployment, generating foreign exchange, and fostering economic growth. Migrant workers currently send about U.S.$100 billion a year to their home countries.

There is a very limited protection for the maids because they are not protected by Employment Act. The reason is because they disregard domestic workers as a “real” employee. The state just leaves the maid at the mercy of the maid agency as well as in the hands of her employer.

The government policy also seems to encourage maid abuse. Before these maids can be placed by their agency, employers must place a S$5,000 bond. Employers will lose their bond if the maids run away or bridge the government policy against getting pregnant or marrying Singaporean. This is perhaps the reason why employees become so protective toward the maids. They are many cases when the employees locking their maids at home and not allowing them to go out for months.

I tried to connect this policy with what Cat mentioned couple weeks ago, how Singaporean government believes that when smart couple will produce smart children as well. Perhaps, this may be the foundation why they have this policy in Singapore, they are afraid that these domestic workers may give birth to not smart Singaporean.

The state does not impose any clarity defined operative mechanism to define the term conditions employment for foreign maid. It prefers to leave the free market to determine the wages and other conditions of service for foreign maids because it is too impractical to impose standard terms.  This is why there is no equality of wages. There are various wages applied to people from different nationalities. Indians and Bangladesh received the lowest pays, which is around S $200, continued by the Sri Lankans they, get 220-240, Indonesian and Thai and Filipino.

From these examples, we can really see how these migrant domestic workers going through very bad discrimination and injustice. What makes it worse is that there is not much people care about their condition and stand up to fight for their right.

Rules and regulation:

These uneducated domestic workers sign a working contract without realising that what they are doing is threating their maids were killed by their employers. For at least the first four months working, they don’t get paid because they need to pay back the air ticket and agency fees. There are some other points in the contract that I found really unethical.

– If you are feeling stressed or have trouble with the employer and his family please seek permission from your employer to call for assistance.

– You are not allowed to request for a change of employer

– You are not allowed to go to church, temple, mosque etc. You are not here for a vacation but to work.

– Most employers dislike their domestic helpers to pray while working in the house.

The number of foreign domestic worker abuse in Singapore per year is difficult to obtain since many cases go unreported.  Between 1999 and 2004, 114 Indonesian domestic workers died due to suicide or accident, and there were five incidents where maids were killed by their employers. Causes for these deaths have not been investigated in depth. The fear of becoming unemployed prevents many domestic workers to report of the abuses. These employees would rather endure the harsh working environment rather than lose their job. They also know their position in the house is just maids. As authorities have acknowledged, many of the deaths are also due to workplace accidents. Several of the workers fell to their deaths after their employers forced them to clean windows from the outside.

The government doesn’t put enough effort in protecting these maids. These issues have been going around for years. But there is very minimum prevention for these things to happen. It seems to me that the government is putting this problem as a least important.

Mariet Malicdem

Mariet Malicdem in a maid in a home-stay for international students in Singapore. It is a big landed house with 7 bedrooms, 1 maid room, 5 bathrooms and 2 living rooms. The landlord is a Chinese Indonesian and Chinese Singaporean couple. The landlord use one room and the rest of the rooms including the maid room are rented to 12 students. Each of the students paid roughly S$1,300 per month.

She had to do all the housework by herself. She cleaned all rooms in the house, did all the laundry and prepared breakfast and dinner for 14 people daily. The owner of the house made a working schedule for her, she had to work from 6 am to 8pm with an hour lunch break everyday. She had to sleep in the storage room because all the rooms were rented.  And she only got once a month day off. And guess what? With this much workload, she got only S$300 per month. This is a real life example that shows us how these women are undervalued.

I know this story quite well because I was one of the students that lived there for two years and I still keep in touch with this maid through FB.

After the contract finished, she is hired by an Australian family in Singapore with much lesser workload, she has her own private space, she received better treatment, and a day off weekly with S$500 wages per month. The family also let her to go back to Philippines every year.This shows us that apart from all bad reports about Singaporean employers, there are still some nice employers that are very good to their domestic workers.

There are also some cases when the maid is actually the one that doesn’t do their job well. Like me myself, I also have bad experiences with my maid.


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