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Harder truths about Security Bond

Sophia Tsang/

In a letter to Today, MOM made a declaration regarding the Security Bond. ("Truth about the Security Bond" June 25 2011 ):

  1. It is aimed at ensuring that employers remain responsible for the proper upkeep and maintenance, as well as prompt salary payment to foreign workers
  2. It also prevents illegal deployment and ensures the timely repatriation of foreign workers.
  3. Since January 2010, MOM has removed employers' liability if the FDW gets pregnant or breaches other Work Permit conditions that relate to her own behavior.
  4. The forfeited security bond is used to cover repatriation and other related costs once the worker is found, so that it does not exact a cost on taxpayers in Singapore
  5. From 2005 to 2010, MOM forfeited an average of 65 (less than 0.04 per cent) security bonds for FDWs each year. As of December 2010, there were 201,000 FDWs working in Singapore

Point 1 is commendable in principle. In practice however, is the situation actively monitored? I suspect there are many more cases of such abuse than actually reported. Even if the employer is caught out, the bond works merely as a guaranteed fine. By the way, since employers buy insurance, depending on the plan bought, the errant employer is likely to be out of pocket by a mere $250.

Point 2 is also commendable in principle. Again, there are many cases of unreported abuse. Does that make the security bond ineffective in these 2 instances? If MOM is serious about safeguarding the maid against these, is it not time to think of other more effective measures?

Point 3 is a relief for employers. Some employers who have employed maids for a long period may not even be aware of this change. It also makes the excuse of being forced to be prison wardens less convincing. It does not however prevent social problems from arising. Good employers who are genuinely concerned with the well-being of their maids should think about their welfare – and it is not by confining them to your house all the time.

I am going to leave point 4 alone for the moment. Looking at point 5 reinforces how minimal the forfeiture really is.

Take a look at the foreign maid levy. From MOM website - The Foreign Worker Levy is a pricing mechanism to control the number of Foreign Workers (including Foreign Domestic Workers) in Singapore. While I appreciate we may have some of the best brains in parliament, cabinet and various top civil service positions, I wonder when we will look beyond using money as a control over most ills.

The levy sum has varied over the years. At one time it was as high as $345 a month. Currently the levy stands at $265 for most employers and, if you qualify, $170 as a concessionary rate. Using $200 as an estimate, and given that there are some 200 000 FDWs in Singapore, this amounts to (200 x 200 000 x 12) $480 million or nearly half a billion per annum. Compare this to the 65 forfeiture of the security bond, even if it is full forfeiture (MOM said in various instances, only half is forfeited) this amounts to $325,000 which is a drop in the ocean compared.

To me, this makes having a security bond on top of levies seem overly “kiasu”. Taxpayers’ money is certainly not going to be touched for repatriation and other expenses in the case of a runaway. The levy more than covers it. Point 4 to me cuts no ice. The ultimate effect is that the nervous or unreasonable employer will use the bond as an excuse to overly control the maid.

While I understand the rather unimaginative way of trying to control influx of foreign workers via using levies, I suggest putting the levies to better use to make this pill easier to swallow.

Foreign workers have many problems. Instead of leaving it to the employers alone, surely part of this money can be used to organize activities for FDWs. Encourage the formation of a buddy system, pairing seasoned maids with new ones. Classes to help new entrants get adjusted to the culture and expectations of living in Singapore will help. Self-improvement classes to give them skills they can bring home with them will be welcomed. How about subsidizing them to visit some local attractions – Sentosa, the zoo, night safari and the like? Many are here out of need. Can we not give them at least some joy? Such activities will be much appreciated, especially when the maids are new. Furthermore it will be easier for employers to let them out if they know the maids are well taken care of.

No, I am not expecting the government to do everything. As the main host, the employers have a pivotal role to play. Nonetheless, the government, with a vested interest to maintain law and social order in the country, has the means to take the lead, to be the role model.

It is easy to say we legislate a day off a week for the FDWs then wash our hands as a job well done. The question is, is this enough?

The writer blogs at speakspokewritewrote.wordpress.com