Punishment for Moonlighting Maids – Excessive?

By Lim Wen Juin and Rachel Low

We refer to the Channel NewsAsia report “3 ex-maids fined for ‘moonlighting’”.

We read this report with great sadness. These foreign domestic workers were fined between $3,000 and $5,500, which may be more than the average FDW’s yearly income. Yet, their only wrong was to have done household chores for people other than the employer specified in their work permits.

In other words, their honest, hard work brought them severe financial punishment.

We understand that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), in meting out the fines, was merely acting in accordance with the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and its subsidiary regulations. But could not MOM have treated them with greater leniency?

In particular, consider the case of 55-year-old Celestina Samam Castro. She worked four hours a week from Dec 2009 to 30 Nov 2011, at $10 an hour. This works out to an approximate total of $4,200 earned from her illegal employment. However, she was fined a larger figure of $5,500.

In any case, we wonder what could be the purpose of a blanket ban on FDWs working for any employer besides the one specified in the work permit.

If the purpose is to protect FDWs from exploitation by employers – which is a major purpose behind the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, according to Parliamentary debates – then surely it does not make sense also to penalise the protected workers.

If the purpose is to protect the interests of the employer specified in the work permit, then surely moonlighting should be allowed so long as the employer consents to it.

If the purpose is to prevent FDWs from moonlighting in the vice trade, then surely the scope of the ban can be narrowed, so that it does not apply to FDWs engaged in non-vice work, e.g. doing household chores.

If the purpose is to protect Singaporeans whose livelihood might be threatened by moonlighting FDWs, then perhaps far more leeway can be given to FDWs doing jobs that few Singaporeans are willing to do.

We are not saying that FDWs should have unrestricted freedom to moonlight. But we do think that restrictions on their freedom can be imposed in a more measured, nuanced way. For it seems to us that a blanket ban on moonlighting runs contrary to the Singapore spirit of rewarding enterprise and dignified hard work.