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Domestic workers celebrate International Domestic Workers’ Day with local NGO, TWC2

By Terry Xu

Over 150 Filipino and Indonesian local domestic workers took part in the celebration of the International Domestic Workers' Day (IDWD) organized by local non-government organisation (NGO) , Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) yesterday.

Jointly organised and funded by TWC2 along with a few other sponsors, the celebration event sought to celebrate this meaningful day with the local domestic workers as well as to educate the domestic workers on certain important issues such as salary and health matters.

The International Domestic Workers' Day is celebrated each year on 16th June  after the International Labour Organisation ‘s Convention on Domestic Workers also known as C189 was passed in the International Labour Conference on 16th June 2011.

Dr Russell Heng, President of TWC2 spoke in his opening address about the importance of the convention,

Why is C189 important? It seeks to extend basic labour rights to domestic workers round the globe and lays down the principles of employment. This convention reminds us that domestic workers are also employees, should be accorded fair wages, a weekly rest day, safe work environment, prospects for personal development and social integration and freedom to express their concerns. These are principles that have been so easily neglected.

C189 provides a comprehensive set of employment standards for domestic workers and ensures that like all workers they should be employed in conditions of freedom and dignity. Only 14 countries have so far ratified the convention.

Unfortunately though not surprisingly, Singapore is not among them. Among countries that are significant source countries for migrant domestic workers in Singapore, only the Philippines has ratified the convention. That is why we are here. We are here to mark this important day in the history of domestic workers’ movement and to raise awareness of the significance of the C189.

It is reported that there are more than 200,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. Which means 1 out of 5 families in Singapore employs a domestic worker in their home.

Davy Animas, representative from The Filipino Family Network (FFN) shares her impression of this year's IDWD celebration, "This event is very entertaining and very informative  because as you know there are still some of us domestic workers doesn't  know these information regarding those legal rights and such."

Another domestic worker from the FFN,  Angie Jerez said that apart from providing an event where they are able to mingle with their fellow domestic workers, it is very beneficial and informative for the domestic workers they were educated about the labour laws stipulated by the Ministry of Manpower and what to do when confronted with situations such as pregnancy.

Although Singapore has legislated a mandatory weekly day off for domestic workers in 2013, a survey by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reveals that only one third of newly arrived domestic workers receive a weekly day off. There are some domestic workers who choose to work in exchange for cash. However, many are coerced by employers to work on their rest days and are not given a choice to take a day off.

Ummairoh, representative from The Indonesia Family Network (IFN) said,

"Since 2013 1st Jan, saying that all domestic workers in Singapore, we have to (be given) day off every week. But unfortunately, some of them, employers give alternately... Most of them are fine... most of them not giving day off, they prefer giving a lump sum (of) money to the domestic worker not a day off. And I am really disappointed with that because its a human being... as a domestic worker. We need a rest. We need a day off from the six days working in the house. We need rest, we need to freshen up, we need to meet fellow friends, say hello.. Its not about having fun but to release our stress. "

Despite a law to control fees paid by domestic workers to secure employment, many employment agencies still get away with charging workers more than the terms allowed under the law through underhand methods. Domestic workers who are still servicing their loan are coerced to continue to work even though employers mistreat them so that employment agencies do not lose out on their profits.