On Sunday, Jolovan Wham, a migrant worker rights activist posted a photo of several women lying on the floor of a kitchen on his instagram, stating that the women are foreign domestic workers (FDWs) who are waiting to be deployed to their employers.

The photo which was taken by one of the FDWs shows the harsh conditions that they live in, and it is said that the FDWs are being charged $15 a day by the unnamed agency.

Wham wrote in his post,

This employment agency charges $15 a day while the domestic workers wait to be deployed to their employers. According to the worker who sent it to me, they had to sleep in the kitchen and were only given rice to eat. They were also barred from using mobile phones. She had to take this photograph secretly and hide her phone.

Such poor treatment is not uncommon since Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower employment agency licencing conditions do not set clear and detailed standards on how domestic workers should be treated. It only says that agencies are responsible for “upkeep and maintenance” “provision of food” and “acceptable accommodation”. Patchy and inconsistent enforcement is a likely outcome of such vagueness. Therefore, whether or not this agency will be penalised is uncertain.

There are also no policies to protect whistle blowers. If complaints are filed, the women might lose their jobs. Even with the intervention of NGOs like HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, under reporting is a huge problem due to a lack of incentives to name perpetrators. This results in unethical agencies getting away scot free.

During audit operations, the Ministry is also known to inform agencies in advance that checks will be done on their premises, giving them ample time to cover up their misdeeds. Such poor enforcement practices is one of the reasons migrant workers continue to be enslaved.

The post which was also shared on Wham’s Facebook account was widely shared over 1,000 times and attracted over 250 comments. Response to Wham’s post was largely how people were being shocked at the alleged treatment received by the FDWs and confirmations from former and current FDWs in Singapore that they have also been in such situations before.

Maila G. Benesisto wrote, “This has been a common problem cited by fleeing domestic workers and ending up their sojourn under the care of HOME…jolovan, this has long been a problem, was there no intervention made from the government side?”

Thirdy Camoca Ularte wrote, “A lot of agency in SG does it..Hope MOM and HOME could take actions on this.”

Besonia Padrones Dionne wrote, “Yes i know some agency doing this,hope MOM take action and find out some of the agencies lodging house.”

Markcedrictheacarl Tabin Semana wrote, “That was exactly I experienced before. . some agencies treat migrant workers so bad..they think they owned us..Sad but true..”

Genkijin Firifinjin wrote, “Been in that situation too.”

Cherry Jimenez Galcon wrote, “Worst when my first time to came here in singapore,We slept under the kitchen table without any pillows and bed or anything to protect our body from the cold floor.”

Amie Lajada Laguidao wrote, “Me also my previously agency we are sleeping in the kitchen then they will take the phone and money..If you complain they will said that you want work or go back philpine..then sometimes they will giving food only one time in one day…luckily when I come Singapore I got bring one pocket of biscuits and 1 pocket of coffee..then also they ask u to clean their family house and wash all those clothes of their five tenants..then clean their office..is too much..You pay to them have deduction then you still work to them.

Chelle Domenden AycoTabaniag Alonzo wrote, “We’ve experience that also before. We sleep on the small room no blankets to use. We eat half bread and coffee for breakfast. They Treated us like a slave. That agency is located at china town “sincere agency” but not sincere on their fdw’s. They also deduct us for almost 5months. They only gave us $20 for our monthly allowance within our salary deduction.they also confiscate our cellphones.. too sad one of the agents is also a pinoy..no heart at all,”

Jet Balane Mella wrote, “Sincere agency is more worst!!! we are more than 30 people sleeping in the kitchen every night for 1week when i first come singapore in feb2011 .. and it happened again when my first employer send me back to that agency after i finished my 9 months salary deduction just receive 20$ every month with 1 offday last november 2011 …same situation…sleeping in the kitchen with doorlocked inside….like a prison….no handphone,no money every personal important thing they keep it… they only allowed to bring personal thing like clothes, 2 underwear! worst experience of the year!!! Now I’m still lucky to have a very good employer! “

Amzaky Hanny wrote, “Was happened to me exactly like this,, she gave us only white bean ( in cane) with rice. Take shower 5 minutes including wash our clothes 3 of us shower together,, just 5 minutes.”

Marivic Evidor Amandy wrote, “Also happen to me..pay 15$ sleeping on the floor beside all the stock of so many things without fan a lot of mosquitoes.”

Mara Krizia Montemayor wrote, “Really its TRUE! banned using phone if you recharge u pay $1…then 6 months and half salary deduction it was really inhumane.”

However, a few also shared that they were lucky not to have experienced such treatment with their agencies.

Whem Permo De Asis wrote, “Thanks God I didn’t encounter this kind of situation from our agency ?(Asia employment)”

Mary E Flores Estonina wrote, “Not all government agency like that…My employer is owner of a agency here in Singapore.. you can sleep well, you will eat right (usually you have the aayaw because many can eat).. Sometimes you’re shy because they are still Serve you.. They are so kind and generous employer..”

The Online Citizen is used to dealing with MOM on such matters, for all the enquires that we sent to them, after waiting a few weeks, they will just ask us to refer to the website. So here’s the link to the matter at hand. http://www.mom.gov.sg/faq/work-permit-for-fdw/what-is-the-fdws-employment-agency-responsible-for

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