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NGO Calls for International Domestic Workers Law to be Ratified in Singapore

Singapore, Friday 17 June 2011 – Non-governmental organisation, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), has called on the Singapore government to ratify the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers which was approved by vote at the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) annual conference in Geneva today.

In 2008, the ILO Governing Body decided to address decent work for domestic workers the following year. A convention was proposed and then debated in both 2010 and 2011.

Singapore is a state member of the ILO. Madam Halimah Yacob, MP, Deputy Secretary-General of the NTUC, and recently appointed Minister of State at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, was appointed Chairperson of the Employees’ representative group at the ILO in 2010. She is on record as being strongly in favour of a convention.

At the ILO conference last year, she said, “The fact that domestic workers suffer from poor working conditions and that their isolation makes it difficult for trade unions to reach out and organise them to improve their working conditions, make it a strong case for international convention. A convention can be used by governments as a reference point to improve their legal environment through labour legislation that will enable domestic workers to benefit from the full range of protections and rights related to decent work.”

TWC2 was set up in 2003 by a group of concerned citizens to campaign for better conditions for migrant workers following a horrific case of abuse where a 19 year-old Indonesian domestic worker was assaulted so badly by her employer that she died of her wounds. The charity continues to provide emotional and legal support to domestic workers as well as to male migrants who work in the construction, manufacturing, maritime and services sectors.

Singapore is host to almost 200,000 migrant domestic workers. Abuse of domestic workers is an ongoing phenomenon. While significant improvements have been made, workers are subject to being locked in; working hours of up to 16 hours per day; no day off; being prevented from keeping contact with their families back home; and given very poor food and accommodation.

TWC2 welcomes the convention which sets down improved employment terms for domestic work such as a weekly day off, specified daily rest periods, maximum work hours, mechanism for calculating overtime work and pay, annual paid leave, sick leave, transparency in terms of payment of salaries and deductions, and access to occupational work safety and health, all of which are available to workers in the formal sector.

TWC2's recent research reports have shown that Singapore still falls considerably short in meeting some of these requirements: for example, a significant number of domestic workers in Singapore still do not have a weekly day off despite clocking in double the number of weekly work hours as the average worker.

TWC2 calls on the Singapore government to ratify the convention speedily and bring domestic workers under the protection of the Employment Act 1968 rather than the weaker Employment of Foreign Manpower Act 1990, and move more forcefully towards meeting the prescribed targets through monitoring by an oversight committee.

TWC2 also recognizes that more intensive public education is needed to get Singapore society to move in tandem with such state initiatives.

In 1968, the government refused to protect domestic workers by bringing them under the Employment Act. It is likely that the government will amend the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act 1990 this year. The convention presents an opportune time to revisit the whole employment law, to ensure there is one standard set of laws protecting all workers in Singapore.

Singapore’s reputation as an attractive labour destination may well become tarnished if its legislative protections for domestic workers continue to lag behind international best practice. As a nation that depends of a steady inflow of overseas workers to support its economic progress, it cannot afford to tarry too long.

Dr Russell Heng
President
Transient Workers Count Too