ST “censors” NGO letter on recommendations to safeguard well-being of FDW caregivers

Just this morning, Straits Times published a letter written by local non-government organisation, HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics) that was submitted in response to the ST article published on 4 Sept on providing assistance to caregivers in Singapore. The article was re-titled to “Give maids proper caregiver training“.

HOME’s letter highlighted the vital roles that foreign domestic workers (FDW) take up in many households in Singapore as caregivers. It also addressed the need to consider the well-being of FDW caregivers and included its recommendations of how that could be done.

However, HOME noted on its Facebook page that ST had “disappointingly edited to exclude all our recommendations except for the one on adequate training”, cutting the 408 worded letter to a mere 178.

Below is HOME’s original letter which was sent to ST:

Initiatives to support caregivers should include foreign domestic workers

We are heartened by the increased recognition amongst community partners that caregiver burnout is a serious problem, and the subsequent efforts made to implement support programs (‘Need help as a caregiver?’; 4 Sep 2017). We hope this movement to appreciate caregivers includes foreign domestic workers (FDWs), who play vital roles as caregivers in many households in Singapore. Some employment agencies estimate that up to 70 percent of families hire domestic workers to care for aging parents (‘Eldercare: More home and daycare services’; 5 Jun 2016).

In HOME’s experience, overwork and a lack of rest days are common problems faced by domestic workers and core contributors to work stress. Most are expected to undertake not only primary care duties — sometimes for multiple persons — but also a wide range of household chores. These issues are exacerbated by inadequate training to prepare domestic workers with the specialized demands of care work, particularly if it involves persons with disabilities or serious illnesses. In extreme cases, caregiver stress can take its toll and result in tragedies, where caregivers, in fits of desperation or psychological distress, end up harming their charges and/or themselves.

To ensure the wellbeing of FDW caregivers, we recommend the following:
• Weekly rest days for domestic workers, so they are able to socialize with others and relieve stress. Households should be able to avail of affordable caregiver services on the FDW’s rest days;
• Reasonable working hours and sufficient food, so that FDWs are well-rested and have the energy to carry out their duties;
• Ensuring mobile phones are not confiscated and their use not unduly restricted. FDWs, placed in unfamiliar environments and households, need to be able to stay in touch with their families and community in Singapore;
• Adequate preparation and training for caregivers, including training on how to care for the elderly, as well as persons with special needs. HOME Academy currently provides extensive training for FDW caregivers looking after the elderly, from a full one-day session to a staggered six-month course.

The burden on caregivers is set to rise as Singapore’s aging population grows: one in seven Singaporeans is currently 65 or older; by 2030, this figure is expected to rise to one in four. The National Population and Talent Division estimates that the number of FDWs in Singapore will increase from 239,700 FDWs at present to 300,000 FDWs by 2030. It is crucial that this sizable community, one which undertakes essential care work in our households, is sufficiently supported.

Editor’s note – The choice of word to use “maids” instead of “foreign domestic workers” is somewhat disingenuous because the reason why FDW is used to describe the profession is that the individual is treated as a worker and by simple reasoning, she should also be entitled to rights and protection under labour law. But in Singapore, an FDW is not being given similar protection as what a foreign worker such as a construction worker is entitled to.