The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) on Wednesday (25 Feb) reiterated its call for domestic workers to be allowed to live separately from their employers.
HOME made its statement in the wake of reports on a Singaporean woman who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to abusing her Myanmar domestic worker to death — a case that was picked up by international media due to its gravity.
40-year-old Gaiyathiri Murugayan admitted to 28 charges including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation and wrongful restraint against then-24-year-old Piang Ngaih Don, who was under her employment for 10 months.
Shocking footage of Ms Piang’s ordeal — which was played in court — was captured by CCTVs installed around the flat by Gaiyathiri and her policeman husband, Kevin Chelvam to monitor the domestic worker and their two children.
Branding the abuse “horrific, dehumanising, and abhorrent”, HOME also highlighted that Ms Piang was isolated in Gaiyathiri’s house “with no mobile phone, no rest days, and no means to seek help”.
Noting that this is not uncommon among domestic workers it has helped, particularly in the first few months of their employment, HOME said that such practices “make domestic workers vulnerable to abuse and exploitation”.
Thus, allowing domestic workers the choice to live separately from their employers will “make them less vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, and help regulate their working hours”.
HOME noted that at present, domestic workers are currently excluded from the Employment Act (EA), which regulates overtime pay, working hours, and public holidays.
Allowing domestic workers to live out of their employers’ homes will assist in the enforcement of the EA.
While a weekly day off was legislated in 2012, the law allows employers to pay workers in lieu of that day off.
Guaranteeing weekly rest days in law will reduce domestic workers’ susceptibility to abuse, by facilitating timely recourse to help, said HOME.
The organisation stressed that more needs to be done to protect domestic workers using strong legislation and pre-emptive measures.
“Domestic workers are recognised by our criminal law as vulnerable victims. Their abusers face enhanced punishments.
“However, by that time, the domestic worker would have already been subject to the abuse, with serious and often long-term impact on her physical and mental well-being,” said HOME.
HOME also urged medical professionals who encounter domestic and migrant worker patients showing signs of abuse to proactively take measures such as history-taking independently of employers, and flagging warning signs to the authorities, medical social workers, or organisations that assist migrant workers.
“While there are existing interview mechanisms for first-time domestic workers, we believe that these checks should be done consistently, in the absence of employers, for all domestic workers,” said the organisation.
Ms Piang’s death, HOME said, “is symptomatic to us of the systemic issues that domestic workers face”.
“We grieve Phiang’s death. She leaves behind a young son who will grow up motherless.”
“We must do better to protect the safety and well-being of the domestic workers and migrant workers who come here to seek a better living for their families back home and contribute to our country,” HOME stressed.