Maid’s death – unequal rules for FTs?

G Hui

I read with dismay that an Indonesian maid has attempted suicide because she was unable to pass an English test. According to news reports, Ms Sulastri Wardoyo, 26, was discovered hanging from a shower head in a toilet at a maid hostel on May 30. (Asiaone)

First of all, few would be aware that maids had to pass an English test. More often than not, maids only have to deal with their employers. Therefore, as long as employers are made aware of a maid’s language capabilities, why should it matter if she does not pass this English test?

For instance, employers who are fluent in Bahasa and are able to effectively communicate with an Indonesian maid should have the option of employing such a maid whether or not she can pass this English test.

The maid’s inability to speak English will only become a problem if potential employers have an expectation that she can communicate in English fluently. This strikes me as a “managing expectations” issue. If potential employers:

1. are informed of a maid’s language limitations;
2. are able to effectively communicate with her in a mutually functional language; and
3. are happy to employ her despite her inability to communicate fluently in English,

then, why should there be a problem?

Secondly, does this English test requirement apply to all immigrants? I have encountered many Chinese nationals in “public-facing” jobs who are unable to speak English. I recently took a taxi whereby the driver was not even able to understand “Holland Village”. I have also been to many restaurants where I would have to order in Chinese because the staff (mainly Chinese nationals) are unable to speak English. In addition, I have many non-Chinese speaking friends who are unable to run the simplest errands from ordering food to taking a taxi just because they cannot speak Chinese. The problems stemming from this are two fold:

1. Singapore is an international financial centre with many foreigners. English is the lingua franca of the world. It is therefore slightly embarrassing that foreigners may be left in a situation where they cannot communicate with service providers effectively.

2. Most of my non-Chinese speaking friends are Singaporean. They should not be made to feel like foreigners in their own country just because immigrants who have chosen to work in Singapore in “public-facing” placements are unable to speak English.

I see no logic in forcing these maids to pass an English test if other foreigners are not made to pass the same test. If an English test is mandatory for a maid, it must be mandatory for all other foreign workers, especially for those in public-facing jobs.


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