Is heavy loan the sole reason for domestic workers running away?

By Terry Xu

An earlier report on Straits Times, “More maid  from Myanmar are running away” (7th April 2013) writes on the increasing number of Myanmar domestic workers running away from their Singapore employer. The report attributes it to the heavy debts that they carry on them, working months with little or no pay for their stay in Singapore.

But is this the entire story of why domestic workers are running away?

Earlier this year, A-Maids-Eye-view-of-Singapore-employers was publicized on TOC’s facebook fanpage. The page is supposedly run by a domestic worker along with her friends who are working in Singapore, writing stories which they have picked up from others who are in the same profession during the day offs or through telephone and social media.

“My Myanmar sister maids are hardworking and strong and loyal and they love their employer family. It is the type employer who want cheap and stupid maid who never talk back, just like they want the Indonesia maid last time to be like cow. But my Myanmar sister maids have spirit hard to break. If you want to a maid who you can break her spirit, Myanmar maid is not for you.

Myanmar maid will fierce and loyal take care of your family, and honest not thief, and hardworking, but you must give them talk to their friends and treat them well.” writing on the report by the admin of domestic workers’ “confession” page.

She comment that the story is half a lie, because the domestic workers from Indonesia also have a lot of loan to pay. What the newspaper did not cover in the story, is the employer’s treatment towards the domestic worker. In her opinion, if the employer is treats the domestic worker well, the worker would not choose to run away, they would still be happy to work, even with 6 months or 7 months loan to pay.

Employers not letting their domestic workers to use their handphone, choosing not to give the day off for the workers, overtasking the worker with chores, are some of the usual stories of how domestic workers are treated in Singapore at the facebook page.

The admin of the page says, “the Myanmar people is strong and proud and they have very strong sense of right and wrong. Myanmar maid morality is strong, and they will not take unfair treatment.”

The report does well to cover on the high agent fees, an issue that affects most of the low skilled workers in Singapore. One of the key factor that contributes to the stress and strong obligation to comply to unreasonable demand from their employers.

Yet in the report, the newspaper has chosen to speak with the various agencies involving the domestic workers but failed to speak with the domestic workers themselves who have been caught or other the domestic workers from Myanmar.

She lament that though there has been many reporters from newspaper writing in to her asking about her stories but they never tried asking for the opinion from the domestic workers themselves.

What happens to a domestic worker is given a scenario where she has no options to take and being limited in her movement? What could she choose to do when she could neither trust her employer or the employment agency, apart from running away? Who could she choose to speak with and ask for help?

Just earlier on Monday 8th April, Home executive director, Jolovan Wham wrote on his facebook status update about the domestic worker whom he had assisted on. He wrote that the worker was dismissed because the employer was not happy with her for requesting a weekly day off and according to the MOM, the employer has the right to cancel her work permit and deny her the chance to switch employers.

Giving one of many examples of how such scenarios for Singapore’s domestic workers are far from being isolated cases and demands the much needed attention from the authorities to address the issue apart from trying within their limited means to arrest the high agency placement fees.