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Myanmar suspends citizens from working as domestic workers in S’pore

The Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) has said that the  government in Myanmar has temporarily barred its women from working as domestic workers in Singapore due to concerns over ill-treatment and abuse.

This suspension has been confirmed by the Myanmar's Labour Ministry.

The temporary suspension for Myamar citizens to travel over to work as domestic workers in Singapore will be in effect for about five months and will be lifted once an agreement, in the form of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), is signed with labour agencies in Singapore.

Singapore's Straits Times reports that the president of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore (AEAS), Ms K. Jayaprema, says however that she has not been informed of any suspension by the Myanmar embassy. She further acknowledged that the association is in discussions with its Myanmar counterpart on an MOU. She said it is currently just a draft document and there are several issues that need to be addressed.

MOEAF vice-chairman Soe Myint Aung is reported to have said: "We just made a temporary suspension. We will start it again after signing a memorandum of understanding... We are still discussing this (MOU) with agencies from the Singapore side."

He added that there were cases which spurred the suspension.

"There were some cases of Burmese maids abused in Singapore," he said, "but those maids did not go through our agency, they went the illegal way."

"There was no problem before and the Labour Ministry let us operate even though there is no MOU," said Mr Soe. "But we found later that there were some problems when agencies from Singapore violated regulations. That is why the Labour Ministry imposed the suspension." 

In April 2013, news reported that a rising number of Myanmar domestic workers were "running away" from their Singapore employers. One reason was that they found it unbearable to work for months without receiving any pay from their employers.

"When we have done the MOU, all of us will need to respect the agreement. This MOU will protect our domestic workers from exploitation and rights abuses," Mr Soe said.

Ms Jayaprema noted that this is the first time that the AEAS has been asked to sign an MOU with a source country.

She said that in the case of the Philippines and Indonesia, they have formal laws that provide protection for their women who work overseas.

Jolovan Wham, executive director of local non-governmental organisation, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), thinks the move by the Mynamr government is good.

He said, " It sends a strong signal to countries of destination like Singapore that adequate protections for their nationals should be guaranteed before they are deployed abroad."

There are reportedly 30,000 to 40,000 Myanmar women working as domestic workers in Singapore.  Many of them don't have proper approval from the Myanmar government to work overseas.

In a forum held last month, Ms Htwe Hteik Tin Lwin, first secretary of the consular section at the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore, said that since the relaxation of travel restriction to Myanmar, it has been much easier to obtain a passport and many have sought work in foreign countries.

She added that although there are many foreign domestic workers (FDW) who have registered with the Embassy, many have come to Singapore without declaring their reasons for being here and the Singapore government does not involve embassies of the domestic workers in the In-Principle Approval (IPA) process.

As a result, the Embassy is unable to ascertain how many FDWs from Myanmar are currently in Singapore.

A group of organisations, which consists of civil society groups, employment agencies in Myanmar which includes the MOEAF, has submitted recommendations to  AEAS, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of Singapore and the Embassy of Myanmar in Singapore for consideration.

The recommendations cover a wide range of issues to protect the rights of domestic workers. They specially identified three recommendations for the Singapore government to consider, namely: to include domestic workers in the Employment Act and Work Injury Compensation Act,  to enact legislation that domestic workers will not be charged for placement fees, and to allow domestic workers freedom to switch employers without their employer’s consent.

The spokesperson of MOM has responded to TOC's earlier enquiry and said,

"We have been informed by the Myanmar government that the temporary suspension of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) applies to all labour-receiving countries in light of recent abuse cases in other countries, and is not targeted at Singapore.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) wishes to emphasise that Singapore has strict rules to protect FDWs, which have been significantly enhanced over the years and are robustly enforced. Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, all employers are responsible for the well-being of their FDWs. These conditions include provisions on personal safety, proper housing, prompt salary payment, and adequate food and rest. Employers who breach these conditions can be fined up to S$10,000 and / or face a jail term of up to 12 months.

Furthermore, recognising the vulnerability of FDWs, the Penal Code was amended in 1998 so that the penalties for employers or household members who commit acts of abuse against FDW are increased by one-and-a-half times. FDWs who are ill-treated in Singapore are urged to seek assistance by contacting the Police, the MOM (FDW Helpline - 1800 339 5505), or their employment agent. This is something that we have been reinforcing through our outreach efforts and the FDW Settling-In-Programme."