Activist and social worker, Jolovan Wham posted on his Facebook on Friday evening about the troubling case of how a domestic worker is being forced to work close to 20 hrs a day and the difficulties of her seeking help.
Recalling the case that took place last year December, Wham wrote that the domestic worker had worked for months without a single day off and ran away because she was exhausted and traumatised by the verbal abuse.
"You left your common sense in the Philippines"
"You are a disappointment"
After running away to seek help and returning to the employer's flat to collect her belongings, he locked her up and refused to let her leave the house, asking that they should have a talk instead.
When HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics) learnt of the matter, Damien Chng, a volunteer who spent a few weeks volunteering with HOME, went down to the house.
When Chng arrived at the flat, he saw that the domestic worker is locked behind the gate and standing between the closed door. However the door behind her was not locked.
Chng wrote in his FB post about the story, stating that he had informed the family that it is a crime for wrongfully confining a person against her will.
In defence, they said that they just wanted to talk with her, and complained that the domestic worker cannot walk off just like that. The police was called in eventually by the family after the family claimed that they were worried about the domestic worker duplicating the keys to their flat.
It was only when the police came, that the family allowed the domestic worker to pack her belongings and leave the flat.
At first, she was not allowed to come with Chng as the police took the employer's side and insisted that if she wanted to leave the house, they would have to put her in a lock up at the police station.
But finally they relented after Chng argued with them for close to an hour and she was brought back to the shelter.
Below is her schedule given to her in writing by the employer, who lives in a flat in Sengkang West.
530am: Wake up and bath
540am-630am: Keep kitchen ware and utensils back into respective cabinets. Prepare children's water bottle, milk bottle, milk powder, handkerchief into school bags. Place school bags on dining table and sir's bag on dining chair. Prepare Sir's water bottle, take out one packet of tissue. Eat your breakfast. Take out previous day newspaper and write down notebook. Collect newspaper from door. Dust floor if timing allows Change diapers and uniform for children
650 to 725: Send children to school
730am to 12pm: Clean up bedrooms, 3 step cleaning (sweep, dust, mop) all rooms plus living room. Set up bathroom for L1's bath and master bedroom. Wipe all children's toys. Can proceed to carry out additional tasks. Marinate meat for dinner (if any)
1230pm -2pm: hand wash children's clothes and sir and mam's clothes. Wash laundry and clean up according to additional tasks in table (continued)
3pm-5pm: Prepare dinner. Remove all clothes in service yard to study room. Cook dinner
5pm to 530pm: Mop kitchen floor, prepare bathroom for children's bath. Set up dinner on dining table. Set up high chairs. On TV switch. Close windows. Make sure all electrical appliances in kitchen (fridge door closed, stove off) is off. Sweep and dust floor again. Check children's room for insects.
545pm: Meet sir at bus stop (sir will call you for exact timing). Make sure door and gate locked.
615pm: Bring L to room, let him drink water
630pm: Clean up bathrooms after children's baths. Unpack school bags, remove school paper announcements wash toy in bag.
645pm: Prepare dinner for children--feed L1/L2 dinner.
7pm-730pm: Prepare dinner for sir/madam. Mind the children while sir and madam eat. prepare fruits for sir/madam and children.
830pm: Prepare milk for L1.
840pm: Eat your dinner
9pm: Prepare milk for L2
9 to 1030pm: Place standby milk and hot flask in respective rooms. Wash utensils, milk bottles, clean sink. Clean and wipe rice cooker parts. Clean kitchen stove and table surfaces. Sterilise milk bottles. Take out soybeans to soak and remove meal for tomorrow's meal to thaw in fridge. Throw rubbish and lock door and gate. Mop kitchen floor. Mop living room. Wipe sofa and play mat. Wipe toys (Saturday nights and when kids are unwell). Shut windows and door blinds.
1030pm: Bath and rest time.
The domestic worker told HOME that it was hard to keep to the timings of the work given to her by the employer and could only rest close to midnight. She decided to go home rather than file a complaint at Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and is back in her country.
Wham wrote that in HOME's experience, even if she did file a complaint at MOM, she would still be repatriated anyway and not allowed to seek an alternative employer if the current employer does not consent.
He noted that overwork is not considered a serious offence.
MOM writes on its website that it regards either mental or emotional abuse as ill-treatment, and will take appropriate action against employers who ill-treat their foreign workers or foreign domestic workers. It also ask those who have knowledge of domestic workers being overworked to write into the Ministry.
Wham, who has been working at HOME for years as a social worker, said in response to TOC's queries about MOM's claims about its stance towards such matters, "In our experience, all the workers who file complaints of overwork end up being repatriated if the employer does not allow them to switch employers. There is no compensation for the worker at all. As they are excluded from the Employment Act, it is legal to make them work 16 hours or more every day without a single day off, as long as the employer pays them on their rest days, which is usually a measly sum of $20."
Wham's claims about the lack of rest for the domestic workers is backed by a report by local NGO, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) which shared that, of the 195 domestic workers surveyed within the period of 2013-2014, 41% said they had four days off per month, 24% of domestic workers received two days off per month, 23% had only one day off per month and 10% had no days off at all. Meaning an approximate figure of 22,000 domestic workers in Singapore do not have a day off at all.
The report noted, "The average compensation for workers in our survey for missing a day off was $17.50 per day. This is the equivalent to just less than a day’s pay in most cases. If domestic workers were covered by the Employment Act and they were working on their day off at the request of their employers, they would receive double their daily wage, or close to $40/day."
On this, Ms Shamim Moledina in a letter to Straits Times wrote, "While there may be rules in place, the question that needs to be asked is this: Do employers abide by them?" and asked if there is a limit to the number of hours a day that maids are supposed to work?
MOM does not prescribe the maximum number of hours a domestic worker can be made to work. It merely provides a guideline to employers that a domestic worker should be given eight hours of rest on her rest days, but even so, it is rarely enforced.
"the report inaccurately alludes to MOM's unwillingness to regulate this sector because it gives precedence to employers. MOM strives to balance the interests of both FDWs and employers. Where the FDW's safety is at risk, as in the case of window cleaning in high-rise buildings, we have intervened.
Furthermore, FDWs have multiple avenues of help, such as MOM's FDW helpline and the Centre for Domestic Employees."
Despite MOM's claims that a domestic worker has multiple avenues of help, an employer can just simply without repercussion send a disgruntled domestic worker back to her home country before she can make a complaint to MOM. There are also no exit checks conducted to ensure that the domestic worker is being sent back at good terms.
If one were to look at the records, one would see that the high profile cases of domestic worker abuse, many have been brought up by NGOs or by concerned members of public. One such example by HOME, is the case of the domestic worker who had been starved by her employers for for almost 1.5 years before she ran away to seek help from HOME.
Quoting what Ms Moledina ended with in her letter,
"I hope more will be done for maids, so that they can enjoy a better life. They deserve much more than what they are getting presently."