On 18 Feb, Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong posed a Parliamentary question to Manpower Minister Josephine Teo regarding the number of In-Principle Approval (IPA) letters the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has issued for FDWs who have zero rest days declared.
Mrs Teo replied that around 20 per cent of FDWs — or over 50,000 — have agreed to be compensated for the work they do in lieu of a rest day at the point of their work permit application in the last four years.
Citing the results of a MOM survey with FDW’s in 2015 in which 98 per cent of them had at least one rest day per month, Ms Teo said that such findings are consistent with those in a survey conducted by the Centre for Domestic Employees in 2017 in which 96 per cent had at least one rest day a month.
There are 255,800 FDWs in Singapore as of Jun last year, according to MOM’s data.
This means that around 10,000 FDWs do not have a rest day from their work.
Mrs Teo said that while employers are required to provide their FDWs a weekly rest day, FDWs and their employers “tend to subsequently make changes to the rest day arrangements during the employment period, based on mutual agreement”.
“For example, some FDWs may wish to take more rest days per month after they have paid off their placement loan,” added Mrs Teo.
She highlighted that employers are required to compensate a FDW who has agreed to work on a rest day.
Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad told Parliament earlier this month that employers are required to ensure that their workers receive a copy of the IPA letter for work permit holders prior to their departure for Singapore.
The IPA letter contains key employment information, including occupation, basic monthly salary, and fixed monthly allowances as well as deductions. Such requirements will ensure that workers are informed of the most critical terms of their employment before departing for Singapore, he said.
Employers are not allowed to make downward revisions to information pertaining to their workers’ salary declared on the IPA unless they have obtained the workers’ written agreement and notified MOM, added Mr Zaqy.
“The requirements to provide written KETs and IPA letters already mean that foreign workers will have sufficient clarity of the details of their employment, in written form,” he said.
Mr Zaqy noted that “almost all foreign domestic workers” under the Settling-In Programme had the complete set of IPA letters with them before coming to Singapore during checks conducted from Aug to Dec last year.
Ms Ong in a Facebook post on 19 Feb — a day after her Parliamentary exchange with Ms Teo — said that the conditions under which said FDWs agreed to be compensated for the work they carry out on their rest days should be examined more closely for questionable elements such as possible undue influence from employers and/or agents, or not being made aware of their right to a weekly rest day.
She stressed that Singapore cannot achieve a “caring and inclusive society if we do not also include our foreign domestic workers in this vision” by not exercising their rights correctly.
“Can you imagine working 365 days without rest?” she said.
Three years ago, CNN quoted findings from a report by independent consultancy firm Research Across Borders, in which 41 per cent of the 800 FDWs who were working in Singapore said in the survey that they made to work on their single rest day.
The report, titled “Bonded to the System”, also found that at least 90 per cent of the FDWs surveyed reported working excessive hours or days, and at least 84 per cent of the FDWs surveyed said they worked over 12 hours a day.
Non-governmental organisation Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) last Sat (22 Feb) also expressed its concern over the situation of certain FDWs who have been denied rest days and forbidden from leaving the homes of their employers out of fear of them contracting the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
HOME said that FDWs have spoken about being “unsure if they will be paid by their employers for not taking their rest days and were worried because they have been prevented from running important personal errands, such as remitting salaries to their families.
“While we acknowledge the fears and concerns of families, especially those with young and vulnerable members, we urge employers to be flexible and understanding in managing their MDWs’ rest day arrangements and to address their worries,” said the organisation.
Endorsing the joint advisory issued by MOM, Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST), and the Centre for Domestic Employee (CDE) for FDWs and their employers, HOME stressed that migrant domestic workers should not have to work if they are forbidden from leaving their employers homes on their rest days.
HOME said that it is important to consider the imbalance of power between employers and low-wage migrant workers on work permit, pointing out that many of these workers rely on their employers to provide them with timely and accurate information on government advisories and laws.
Employers are responsible for keeping their migrant workers informed, stressed the organisation, adding that it is difficult for the workers themselves to stay updated when most of these announcements are made in languages that migrants workers may not understand.
HOME shared that most migrant workers may not have access to media outlets and if their employers expect them to be at work, they may feel obliged to comply for fear of losing their jobs. Additionally, if a worker has recruitment fee debts to pay off, the pressure intensifies.
The organisation called for these circumstances to be taken into consideration should any penalties be meted out to migrant workers for breaching government measures.
Beyond that, HOME also called upon MOM to make efforts in informing migrant workers of their rights under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act which stipulates that they should be paid their basic wages even if their employer has no work for them.
Stay-at-Home Notices and Leave of Absence (LOA) were implemented by the government as part of its measures to prevent wider spread of COVID-19.
MOM announced on Mon (24 Feb) that it has taken action against ten additional work pass holders and has suspended the work pass privileges of nine more employers between 10 Feb and 24 Feb for breaching the LOA requirements.
The mandatory 14-day LOA for all work pass holders with recent travel history to mainland China — to be served upon their arrival in Singapore — was enforced on 31 Jan.
Of the ten work pass holders who have been found to breach the LOA, six work passes were revoked and four work pass holders were given stern warnings.
Among the ten cases, MOM said that the work passes of two workers who claimed “ignorance of the LOA requirement” despite being informed earlier were revoked and they have been permanently banned from working in Singapore.
Meanwhile, their employer’s work pass privileges have also been suspended for two years the same reason of being “ignorant” of LOA requirements.
“Ignorance of the requirements is not an excuse”, said MOM, adding that the Ministry will not hesitate to revoke work passes and withdraw work pass privileges of employers or employees who breach the rules.