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Better Together. Support and Help for Domestic Workers in Singapore

In Singapore’s fast-moving, ‘can do’ economy, often we rely on the support of live-in domestic helpers to allow us the freedom to work. Foreign domestic workers (FDWs) are responsible for the smooth running of many a household – from daily chores and cooking, to the care of children and the elderly, in addition to keeping our pets or plants alive and well.

The facts speak for themselves:

“In recent years, the number of FDWs has increased steadily. The latest numbers from Ministry of Manpower (MOM), as of December 2015, reported that there are approximately 231,500 FDWs in Singapore. This is about 23% of the 997,100 Work Permit holders.” Transient Workers Count Too, June 2016

Mounting Concerns

As a result of living and working in a household, domestic helpers can build close relationships with their employers; with both sides committing to a relationship that can last many years. However, according to an extensive report by the International Labour Office, living where you work is not always easy:

“Live-in domestic workers on average work far more hours per day and per week than almost any other category of workers. In some cases, the isolation of domestic workers in the household has meant that they are expected to be available to work around the clock, with very little rest. “

These findings support a milestone study that was published in 2015 by Singapore’s own Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). Founded in 2004, HOME is a well-respected charity dedicated to assisting foreign workers in Singapore. This study found that the domestic workers they interviewed worked an average of 13 hours daily and slept for eight hours each night on average. 40% of the respondents did not have a weekly day off.

In May 2016, mounting concerns over the living conditions of Indonesian domestic workers abroad prompted the Indonesian government to announce its intention to stop sending women to work as live-in FDWs as early as 2017.

What Can Be Done?

Often, the best way to solve a problem is before it starts. This may seem counter intuitive, but when it comes to employing a domestic helper it makes perfect sense. CDE Chairman, Yeo Guat Kwang, explains that honest and regular communication is key to a successful working relationship:

“It is in the employer’s interest to ensure their (domestic helper) is able to share their concerns without fear or reprimand or repatriation.”

Positive vs. Negative Working Relationship

According to HOME, a positive working relationship means the domestic helper:

• feels like an important, integral part of the household

• has normal standards of privacy

• has her own room to sleep in

• gets sufficient rest

• receives adequate nutritional and medical attention by the employer

• has regular access to a stable social network

• has regular contact, plus regular agreed time with family

A negative relationship can be extremely detrimental to a FDW’s psychological well-being, and can have far-reaching consequences for all involved. Risks include:

• language related communication barriers

• abusive behaviour (especially verbal and physical) by the

• employer or employer’s family

• invasions of privacy

• restrictions of communication by the employer or employer’s family

Better Together - Supporting Domestic Helpers in Singapore

Across Singapore, many are striving for fairer working conditions for domestic and migrant workers. Here are just some of the NGOs working together to help those in need and advocate better policies:

Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) - backed by the Government, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation. The MWC, and its counterpart the CDE, has directly assisted more than 20,000 foreign workers with problems and conducted outreach to more than 650,000 foreign workers since 2009.

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) - has long been a champion for maids, offering training in vocational skills. It also runs the largest shelter for maids in Singapore who have suffered abuse and is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking and forced labour.

TWC2 - runs a soup kitchen and provides shelter services. It also acts as a lobby group and advocate for migrant workers' rights.

HealthServe - provides low-cost medical and dental care for workers, besides running shelters and a soup kitchen.

Aidha - provides financial literacy programmes such as money management, computer literacy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills for foreign domestic workers and lower-income women.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) - for over 18 years, ACMI has helped over 4,768 migrants with their challenges and issues, supplied more than 163,978 meals/ration packs for foreign workers and trained over 7,781 foreign domestic workers, and in 2016 alone, helped 62 foreign spouses in learning.

Want to Know More?

The Ministry of Manpower offers a complete guide to everything you need for a successful working relationship with a FDW here.


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