About 500 women from Myanmar have reportedly been barred in the past three weeks from leaving their country to work in Singapore as foreign domestic workers (FDWs), said local employment agencies.
In September last year, the government of Myanmar (Burma) imposed a five-month ban on its citizens coming to Singapore for domestic work with little warning. The ban was reportedly due to concerns over ill-treatment and abuse, the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) said.
Despite the five-month ban by the Myanmar government since last September, local agencies were still able to “sneak” in Myanmar citizens to work as FDWs in Singapore.
Mr Gary Chin, managing director of Nation Employment, is reported to have said, “We used to have about 20 maids from Myanmar coming in every week…Now, we have none.”
Ms K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore, was reported to have said at least 15 agencies have been affected from the ban.
According to Chinese evening paper, Shin Min Daily News, the Myanmar government saw through the tactics by the employment agencies to skirt the ban. Tactics such as getting the women by applying for tourist visas or flying them in through a third country.
Last year, there were reportedly 30,000 FDWs from Myanmar working in Singapore. Women from Myanmar were not allowed to work here as FDWs until March last year, when their government stipulated that they had to receive a minimum monthly salary of $450 and get at least one day off a month, according to Myanmar newspaper reports. Their recruitment fees also could not exceed four months of their salary.
Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of Local NGO, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (H.O.M.E.) said, “Banning is not the solution. What Myanmar needs to do is ensure its women going abroad to work are not cheated by unscrupulous and illegal recruiters. Myanmar’s decision to ban should also be a wake-up call to Singapore to protect domestic workers further. In the past year, HOME has seen a steady increase in the number of domestic workers from Myanmar approaching us for help.”
Last year in a forum organised by HOME, Ms Htwe Hteik Tin Lwin, first secretary of the consular section at the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore, shared 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.
Although there are many FDWs who registered with the Embassy, many have come to Singapore without declaration of what they are doing here. As a result, the Embassy is unable to ascertain how many FDWs from Myanmar are currently in Singapore.
One of the difficulties faced by the embassies in Singapore to track their citizens who are working as FDWs is that the Singapore government does not involve the embassies in the In Principle Approval (IPA) process, which allows them to be informed of their citizens who enter Singapore as FDWs.
While Singapore or Ministry of Manpower may push the responsibility of tracking of citizens working in Singapore as FDWs to their home countries, it is a daunting task for them. This is due to the fact that citizens in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) need not apply for visas to travel between the countries, and therefore, need not specify the reason for visiting the country.