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MOM seems reluctant to acknowledge the abuses faced by migrant domestic workers

MOM has seen the report on forced labour in the migrant domestic worker (MDW) sector by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and Hong Kong-based anti-human trafficking organisation Liberty Shared, says HOME Executive Director Sheena Kaur.

The report illustrates the reprehensible abuses that MDWs are forced to endure here in Singapore. It highlights multiple case studies in which migrant domestic workers face abuses such as overwork, food deprivation, confinement, isolation and having their salary withheld by employers and agents.

But beyond just the abuses committed by employers and agencies, the report also highlights the inadequate legal protection available to this vulnerable group and how authorities are reluctant to pursue or investigate complaints by MDWs when there no evident physical abuse.

Ms Kaur said that the report has been shared with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and a discussion on the report was held with MOM and HOME. Ms Kaur, together with Stephanie Chok, Research & Advocacy Manager at HOME and author of report met with MOM officers and had a ‘great discussion’ with MOM with ‘healthy disagreements’, Ms Kaur said that it was a “great starting point for more collaborative discussions with MOM in the coming months”.

That’s not to say the meeting was not also ‘deeply distressing’.

Ms Kaur noted that the MOM officers questioned the case studies which HOME cited in their report, asking if the cases had been verified with MOM and how the claims made by the MDWs were substantiated. Sheena added that MOM kept going back to individual claims of forced labour. The officers kept asking questions like, ‘did she tell the employer she didn’t have enough food? Did she tell the employer she wanted to leave the house? Maybe she wanted to stay without salary for 8 months?’

Sheena said one officer even asked if the MDW who had no rest days for 10 years and had her salary withheld for 10 years consented to those conditions when she first started working here. MOM said they ‘don’t know enough to comment’.

The response from MOM is quite startling. When confronted with cases of severe abuses and forced labour within the Republic, MOM officers seem stubbornly obtuse, preferring to push the blame back onto the MDWs and ignore completely the lack of legal protection afforded to this vulnerable group.

Ms Kaur said it well: “When government officers say that, it’s not encouraging”.

HOME was also told that there haven’t been any cases serious enough to warrant prosecution under the human trafficking legislation or the Penal Code. Clearly, as HOME has reiterated in there report, the current Employment of Foreign Manpower Act is inadequate and does not provide clear protections to MDWs. This, MOM agreed with. There was at least a discussion of looking at how they can look at forced labour as a whole and not just individual instances of abuse that MOM cannot act on because the laws are too vague.