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Workplace Safety Issues of Domestic Workers

This joint statement is endorsed by both the Think Centre and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, are deeply concerned about the persistent trend of foreign domestic workers being injured or killed due to falls from height while at work.

It is shocking to learn that eight fatalities had occurred alone in just the first four months of 2012 when compared to the entire period from 2007 to 2011 (24 fatalities out of 69 falls). The latest case of an Indonesian domestic worker who fell to her death at Woodlands on April 26 reminds us all that such unnecessary tragedies remain acutely unresolved without any real long term solution put forward by any parties responsible for the workplace safety of domestic workers.

The Indonesian government has laudably taken steps to introduce a new rule in contracts that bars new Indonesian domestic workers from cleaning out-facing windows or hanging laundry outside high rise flats. However this has limited protection for existing Indonesian domestic workers since the ruling, effective from May 1, only applies to contracts of new domestic workers. The enforceability of such clauses in the contracts remains an issue since there are no workplace inspectors in Singapore dedicated to ensuring compliance with such employment terms.

The Singapore Government being the key actor needs to take stronger actions, beyond issuing statements of concern and reminders to “employers and the public to pro-actively ensure that their maids are not placed in a position where their safety is jeopardised” (The New Paper, 6 April 2012). While the government has prosecuted transgressing employers who were meted out maximum fines of up to S$5,000.00 and permanently barred from hiring domestic workers, it would appear that these sentences do not represent an adequate enough deterrent message to employers of domestic workers.

We also wish to highlight the differences in handling between workplace fatalities involving other foreign workers and foreign domestic workers. In a May 1st Straits Times report, an Indian national was reported to have died due to falling eight floors while working at a lift upgrading project at Yishun Ring Road. MOM immediately issued a stop work order to the contractor. However in similar incidents involving foreign domestic workers there are no such measures with which to even ascertain the conditions leading to the accidents.

We therefore call upon the Singapore Government to:

  • Acknowledge that this is a pressing and unacceptable situation, and to address it by coming together, with civil society and any relevant stakeholders, at the table to discuss the issues and jointly develop responses that should result in an optimal long term solution;
  • Implement an immediate temporary stoppage, with a period between 3-6 months, of window exterior cleaning or laundry hanging to give time for satisfactory investigation to be conducted and official findings together with any recommendations released to the public;

It is imperative that we, as a society, take concrete actions to address this currently unacceptable situation. This is the minimum that can be done to recognise the intangible contributions brought by over 200,000 foreign domestic workers to Singapore's economy and families.