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Singapore: Deaths of domestic workers force government to act

by IDWFED published May 10, 2012 12:00 AM
Contributors: Carole Chomat/Le Petit
The death of eight Indonesian young girls since the beginning of the year accentuates the pressure on the Singaporean government to improve the work conditions of these foreign domestic workers



Read the original article in full (French): Travailleuses domestiques: Malaise dans la cité-Etat | Le Petit

Since the beginning of the year 2012 eight domestic workers died in the achievement of their domestic tasks, of which five during the external cleaning of windows, reports the Singaporean Ministry of Labor. In comparison Hong Kong, another popular destination for Indonesian young girls, has much less accidental deaths of these workers because joint ownerships engage professional window cleaners.

A pure and simple prohibition

“Following these deadly falls, our position is to prohibit the domestic workers from achieving dangerous tasks like cleaning the outside of windows or to suspend the linen from the tower blocks,” entrusted Sukmo Yuwono, counselor of the Indonesian Embassy, to Agence Presse. “We warn the employers because when you are accustomed to a very simple life in a village, you do not have the habit of the void and you do not know how to clean the windows in full safety. This phenomenon is worrying. In fact human beings die for nothing due to the lack of formation and/or information”. As the photographs published recently in the local mediums prove, showing young girls squatted on the supports of the windows, crawling on the edges in order to dangerously reach the outside of the windows of great height buildings.

Thus since last week, this prohibition is coming into effect. Although this measurement is greeted by militant groups for the respect of working conditions, some are more sceptic about the way in which it will be applied because there is nothing specific in the Singaporean penal code which prohibits the employers from giving those dangerous instructions to their domestic workers. “The Singaporeans want to get good value for their money and sometimes, we know well that it is dangerous, but we do it because we are there for that. We do not have the choice”, a young Indonesian woman who has worked for ten years in Singapore explains.

Domestic workers often abused

It is not for the first time that the city state is under international and sometimes national pressure in order to improve the work conditions of foreign domestic workers. Already in 2005, the 124 pages report “Maid to Order: Ending Abuses against Migrating Domestic Workers in Singapore” of Human Rights Watch based on more than 100 discussions with domestic workers, government representatives, and recruiting agents detailed a series of abuses suffered by domestic workers in Singapore and the reaction of the Singaporean government.

The city state is, with Malaysia, part of the nine countries in the world which have purely and simply refused last June to ratify the Convention 189 of the International Labor Organization which allows the domestic workers world-wide to profit from a certain number of basic rights. “This convention is a long time expected by cleaning ladies, nannies and social service providers as recognition of a labor deserving the respect and equal treatment to that of the other workers under the law”, Nisha Varia declared, Senior Researcher at Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch.

Families in Singapore employ approximately 207,000 foreign domestic workers, mainly coming from Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Every fifth domestic worker lives full-time in a household in the city state of 5.2 million people.

Source: Carole Chomat/Le Petit

Story Type: News

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