Singapore is seeing a spike in the number of runaway cases among migrant domestic workers (MDWs) amid the circuit breaker period, said the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) on Monday (18 May).
From 13 March to 29 April, the number of runaway cases among MDWs has more than doubled, it said.
FAST noted that many MDWs have reached out to the Human Organisation of Migration Economics (HOME) helpline and expressed their intention to leave their employer’s residence.
In fact, HOME – a non-government organization (NGO) that advocates migrant worker rights – revealed that the number of calls to its helpline increased by 25 per cent since the onset of the circuit breaker regulations took place on 7 April.
“Many of these issues have existed before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the circuit-breakers measures; they have exacerbated in recent weeks as MDWs are facing increased isolation,” HOME said in its statement on 15 May.
Welfare groups’ shelters that offer temporary housing for MDWs are also occupied. HOME and the Philippine Embassy in Singapore each house 50 MDWs in its shelter, but now they have to limit the number of residents at their shelters to maintain social distancing.
According to HOME, complaints of verbal abuse have been on the rise, as disputes between employers and MDWs become more frequent due to increased proximity between employers and MDWs.
For instance, an MDW from the Philippines claimed that she had been enduring verbal abuse from her employer since she started working for the family in January. The verbal abuse got even worse when the circuit breaker took effect as she was being closely monitored by her employer, which led her to run away from her employer’s residence earlier this month.
She reached out to HOME’s helpline and now being housed by her agency while waiting for repatriation as she wants to go back.
Some of the MDWs experienced overworking, limited access to avenues of communication, salary disputes, termination by their employers, and other well-being issues, said HOME.
“Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, MDWs are to be given ‘adequate’ rest, a term which is not defined. As a result, their rest hours, MDWs’ rest hours, which are subject to the generosity of individual employers, have become even more precarious than they already are,” it explained.
Employers who failed to provide accommodation for their MDWs can be fined up to S$10,000, jailed for up to a year, or both, under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.