I take great issue in the way the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training (Fast) have expressed their concerns over moneylenders targeting foreign domestic workers for “easy approval loans”.
While I can understand concerns in relation to domestic helpers being exploited by unscrupulous money lenders, I find the language in which these concerns have been voiced patronising. Instead of genuine concerns for the foreign worker’s hard-earned but low wages being tied up in loans with high-interest rates, they seem more concerned with making sure that employers are kept in the loop.
Ms Stephanie Chok, case manager and head of research at Home has said that “it should be compulsory for legal moneylenders to obtain the consent of employers of domestic workers.” Does employer knowledge protect the domestic helper’s interests or is it just another layer of control for the employer? The domestic worker already lives with her employer. In that sense, every aspect of her life from professional to personal is within her employer’s control. Some domestic workers do not even have their own room at night – something that most of us take for granted! Surely the best way to prevent exploitation is to regulate the moneylenders rather than requiring such moneylenders to seek employer permission?
If we wanted to take a personal loan, do we have to inform our bosses? Surely not! Why then the different standard for a domestic worker? They are not lesser beings unable to make their own decisions. They are not the minor offspring of their employers. They are working adults no different from other Singaporeans working to earn a living. Requiring moneylenders to seek employer permission is just an invasion of privacy that blurs the line between a domestic helper’s personal and professional life. A line that is already hard to define given that the domestic worker has no choice but to live in her employer’s home!
I understand that foreign workers are vulnerable to exploitation and that Home and Fast have legitimate reasons to have concerns. However, I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that employer knowledge will solve the issue. Surely the heart of the issue is to ensure that foreign domestic workers are fairly remunerated to reduce the temptation to take on such “quick approval loans”? I mean, isn’t this the logic the People’s Action Party employs by paying their ministers top dollar? Pay them more so they are not susceptible to making a quick buck through corruption?
Secondly, shouldn’t these moneylenders be regulated against offering loans to people that will never be able to repay the loans? Domestic workers should not be singled out for this protection – rather, this protection should be for anyone and everyone who cannot afford to service such loans!
Thirdly, if there are genuine concerns for foreign workers, why don’t we just go directly to them? Education and awareness go a long way. Why not reach out to the embassies of these workers to get the word out on such exploitative moneylenders?
In short, there are many ways to tackle this problem and I am disappointed that Home’s first port of call is to treat a working adult like some kind of chattel by suggesting that it be made compulsory for moneylenders to seek employer permission.