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Survey on Exploitation of Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore is ‘Misleading’: MOM

December 4, 2017

Initial survey saying that six out of ten foreign domestic workers in Singapore are exploited by their employers are deemed as giving ‘misleading’ picture, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in an official statement on Friday (Dec 1).

The survey itself was conducted by independent consultancy Research Across Borders and involved both foreign domestic workers and employers in Singapore. In the report, helpers complained about bad living conditions, excessive working hours, deduction of monthly salary, as well as violence. As much as 60 percent from 735 Filipino and Indonesian respondents were identified as exploited, with 23 percent identified as victims of forced labour that involved threats, control, leverage or force.

In response to the survey’s findings, MOM said that it used an ‘overly simplistic interpretation’ of the International Labour Organisation’s indicators of labour exploitation. The ministry stated that the study did not manage to consider the unique nature of domestic work when interpreting given indicators. For example, it defined their working hours in general, without taking into consideration the fact that work and personal time within domestic work context cannot be easily be differentiated, Channel News Asia reports.

The ministry noted that the survey also used terms ‘isolation’ and ‘confinement’ to include situations where foreign domestic workers need their employer’s approval and permission to leave the house, return before midnight on her rest day, or not given her own set of house keys. According to MOM, such interpretation of ‘isolation’ and ‘confinement’ is improper. The study failed to give consideration about the employers’ responsibility for the safety and well-being of both workers and family members, especially the young and the aged.

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The ministry also said that it conducts regular surveys to “better understand the employment conditions and well-being of FDWs here”.

In a survey conducted in 2015 involving 1,000 such workers, MOM found that majority respondents (97 percent) were satisfied working in Singapore, the other 76 percent keen to continue working in Singapore after their contract was completed, 79 percent would recommend the country as a place to work, while another 97 percent said their workload was on the right portion.

MOM added that it has also interviewed more than 3,000 new foreign domestic workers a year after their first few months of work, and found 95 percent saying that their workload was manageable and did not raise any well-being issues for them.

Additionally, the Research Across Borders survey also pointed out that foreign domestic workers are the only group of migrant workers in Singapore that are excluded from the Employment Act. Instead, they are covered under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. The report stated that such conditions could potentially harm those helpers, since they would not be able to receive adequate legal protection or medical coverage.

Regarding to this matter, MOM said that domestic workers, including the foreign ones, are not covered by the Employment Act owing to the unique nature of their work arrangement. However, such policy does not mean that they are not protected at all. Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers have to ensure “prompt payment of salaries, provision of proper food, rest days or compensation in lieu of, accommodation, medical care, and safe working conditions”.

According to MOM, “These are laws and not guidelines. Employers who violate the laws face stiff fines, jail terms, and can be banned from hiring FDWs in future. Under the penal code, employers who commit offences against their FDWs face penalties of one and a half times the usual punishment.”

Further, the ministry said that the government had worked on measures to improve foreign domestic workers’ well-being over the years. For example, it provided the introduction of mandatory weekly rest days or compensation in lieu, a settling-in-programme for new foreign domestic workers to better understand their rights and responsibilities, and the increase in maximum penalties for breaches of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

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