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Singapore: Ensuring Decent Work for Domestic Workers

Singapore: Ensuring Decent Work for Domestic Workers

by IDWFED published Oct 11, 2014 12:00 AM
Despite Singapore’s meteoric rise into a developed state, it has failed to guarantee equality for domestic workers.




Despite Singapore’s meteoric rise into a developed state, it has failed to guarantee equality for domestic workers.

There are approximately 215,000 migrant domestic workers from Southeast Asia and South Asia in Singapore. These women who cook, clean and take on caregiver roles are among the least protected workers in this affluent city-state. Reports of physical and sexual abuse are frequently heard of, and activists have long criticized the Singapore government for not providing migrant workers with adequate protections.

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Photo:  missbossy/FLICKER(CC BY 2.0)

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, a Singapore-based nongovernmental organization (NGO), sees an average of 500 women every year who flee their employer’s homes to seek refuge at its shelter. Complaints include unpaid and delayed wages, excessively long work hours, lack of rest and unsafe work conditions. Threats, deception and coercion have also been reported. When such abuses happen to workers who are expected to work round the clock, it amounts to trafficking and forced labor.

Many domestic workers arrive already indebted to a recruitment agency for their jobs. Even though Singapore’s Employment Agencies Act only allows recruiters to charge no more than two months of placement fees, they continue to collect six to eight months’ worth of salaries from these women, who earn an average of $300 a month. Wage discrimination by nationality is widespread: Workers from the Philippines are often paid the most and those from South Asia the least.

The kafala, or sponsorship system, as it is known in the Middle East, is also a main feature of Singapore’s labor migration regime. The women are only allowed to switch employers with the permission of their “sponsor.” This often makes it difficult for complaints and reports against abusive employers to be made, as they fear losing their jobs and not being able to repay their debts.

After years of campaigning by NGO activists, the Singapore government consented to legislating a weekly day off for migrant domestic workers. However, resistance to granting rest days remains strong. In a survey conducted by Singapore’s local English daily, only 37% of domestic workers were granted weekly rest days. In order to placate employer concerns, the Singapore government granted concessions to employers we would usually not accept for workers in other occupations. For example, the duration of the day off is not 24 hours but negotiable between the worker and her employer; and the employer may also pay her compensation in lieu of taking a day off.

In an interview with Human Rights Watch, representatives of the government’s Foreign Manpower Management Division said:

“The working hours, the nature of work for domestic workers is different from office work, which is 9-5. It depends on individual needs. Employers and employees must come to a mutual understanding … We hope to change through employer education. There is different bargaining power. The key is to encourage best practices, working closely with intermediaries.”

As Human Rights Watch rightly pointed out, although care of the elderly and children may be a 24-hour job, migrant domestic workers should not be expected to work round the clock. Other professions with similar demands, such as nursing, arrange for shift work that ensures workers receive regular periods of rest. Employers must find ways to manage their own time and alternatives like child care to ensure reasonable working hours for domestic workers.

Read the original article in full: Ensuring Decent Work for Domestic Workers in Singapore | Fair Observer

Source: Jolovan Wham/Fair Observer

Story Type: News

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