Starting this Wednesday (20 May), employers will be benefit from an easier method to transfer their domestic helpers to other households, thanks to new rules launched by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
Given the current COVID-19 pandemic, many countries around the globe have imposed strict travel restrictions resulting in a limitation on the number of migrant domestic workers coming into Singapore.
However, with these new rules, employment agencies can soon help employers terminate the contract of a migrant domestic helper’s work permit even though she does not have a new employer.
When the helper’s permit is cancelled, she will be issued a 14-day Special Pass. Within this time frame, if the domestic helper is not secured with another employer, the agency will bear the cost of repatriating the worker.
During the unemployment period, the agent will also take care of the worker’s accommodation, food and medical insurance.
This new arrangement helps employers tremendously as the current regulation makes it compulsory for the ex-employer to bear the cost of the worker’s living expenses during the transition period even if she has already returned to the employment agency. If that’s not all, the former employer must also provide a letter of consent for the new work permit application.
The former boss must also pay for the domestic helper’s trip to her home country if her work permit is cancelled and she is not able to get a new employment with another household.
MOM said that employment agencies which would like to take over the responsibilities of caring for migrant domestic workers during the 14-day transition period should register with the Ministry by end of this month (31 May), adding that a list of participating agencies will be made public online.
AEAS questions the new rules
In response to these new rules, the Association of Employment Agencies (AEAS), which represents 300 agencies that supplies over 75 percent of domestic workers in Singapore, questions the objective of this new added rules.
The president of AEAS, K Jayaprema, told Channel News Asia (CNA): “We do not understand the objective of this policy, especially at this juncture. Even if you look at the current situation, employers do transfer domestic workers through employment agencies. There are existing agreements between employers and agencies … it is something that is ongoing.”
She added, “It looks like there’s no consideration that is being given to the interests or the thoughts of the domestic worker herself.”
This is because she explained that the affected domestic workers might not even be given the chance to say if she would want to be transferred to another employer.
“It looks like it’s a deal that is being made between the employer and the agencies. It is all being monetised, and whoever can bear the costs makes that decision about transferring the domestic worker.”
If that’s not all, Ms Jayaprema also pointed out that the 14-day transition period is too short, adding that the majority of the current service agreements between employment agencies and employers give a 21-day transition period and a 7-day extension where applicable.
“We are looking at interviewing and understanding the domestic worker, putting her up on any kind of a platform, facilitating interviews, ensuring that both the employer and the domestic worker can agree on employment terms,” she said.
“Sometimes after we have gone through the whole process the domestic worker changes her mind. She might have some other offer from elsewhere. So if for whatever reason if she changes her mind and we are not able to find another suitable employer within those 14 days, then the agency is going to be disadvantaged. Definitely, 14 days is not enough to do a transfer.”
With these new regulations, the cost of hiring domestic workers may also increase as agencies have other additional costs to pay for.
“The employment agencies are expected to buy insurance. In the past, the insurance was under the current employer, so we don’t have to incur the additional cost of another insurance policy,” she said.
“All this is going to be factored in and all that is actually going to cause the agency fee to go up.”
HOME highlighted issues faced by migrant domestic workers
In a recent statement released by the Human Organisation of Migration Economic (HOME), it highlighted a number of issues faced by migrant domestic workers in Singapore. One issue is the termination of a worker’s employment and inability to return to their home countries due to travel restrictions imposed due to COVID-19. Some of these workers are unsure if they can return back to their hometowns even if they’re repatriated because of the internal lockdowns and limitation on domestic travel imposed by their own government.
To make it worse, some workers told the organisation that they are not sure if their employers have terminated their work permits and are scared that they will overstay in Singapore without proper documentation.
“HOME has heard accounts from Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) whose applications for a new work permit have been rejected, despite multiple appeals,” it said.
It added, “Employment agencies have told HOME that applications by Singaporeans and permanent residents, as well as prospective employers who are eligible for levy concession (i.e. live with a child below 16 years old, elderly person who is at least 67 years old or person with disabilities) are prioritised.”
TOC has reached out to HOME to find out their comments on the new regulations by MOM and is yet to receive a reply.