Employers must obtain written consent from migrant domestic workers, notify MOM before deploying workers to different address to care for young children or elderly parents: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo

Employers must obtain written consent from migrant domestic workers and notify the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before deploying their workers to a different address to care for their young children or elderly parents, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Tuesday (2 Mar).

Mrs Teo stated this in a written response to Member of Parliament, Louis Ng Kok Kwang’s question on whether the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will require employers of migrant domestic workers to obtain documented consent from the said workers prior to deploying them to a different address to care for the employers’ young children or elderly parents.

Such consent, Mr Ng noted, can be recorded through text messages or a logbook, so that disputes over illegal deployment can be more smoothly resolved.

Mrs Teo noted that under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, migrant domestic workers are only allowed to work at their employer’s residential address.

“In some cases, the employer may need her FDW to accompany her children or elderly family members to a relative’s place at a different address while the employer is at work.

“This arrangement is allowed if the employer obtains the FDW’s written consent and notifies MOM,” said Mrs Teo, adding that employers can now notify MOM through an online form on MOM’s website instead of writing in.

The employer, said the Minister, must ensure that the migrant domestic worker does not perform the full load of housework in both households.

“Employers are encouraged to get the FDW’s written consent prior to the start of the employment and incorporate it into the FDW’s employment contract,” Mrs Teo added.

The illegal deployment of migrant domestic workers was a key issue in the High Court’s decision in the high-profile case of Indonesian national Parti Liyani, who formerly worked for ex-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and was accused of thieving his belongings in 2016.

Ms Parti was accused of stealing items totalling S$50,000 from Mr Liew — her former employer — and his family members. Her case went to trial and she was found guilty by District Judge Olivia Low, who sentenced Ms Parti to 26 months of jail in March 2019.

In September last year, however, the High Court acquitted her of theft charges related to the said items.

Justice Chan Seng Onn in his decision noted that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate that there was no improper motive by the senior Liew and his son Karl in making the police report against Ms Parti “just two days” after she made an expressed threat to alert the MOM about her illegal deployment to the latter’s residence and office.

In Sep last year, MOM said it takes a “stern view” of cases where migrant domestic workers are deployed to participate in non-domestic work or to work in commercial premises regularly and over a long period of time.

The Ministry said that Ms Parti made a report of illegal deployment by her employer’s spouse Mrs Liew to Mr Karl’s residence in Oct 2017.

The deployment was carried out between September and October 2016, and to his office around 2012 and 2013, said MOM.

MOM said it then issued a caution to Mrs Liew and an advisory to Mr Karl Liew at the conclusion of the investigation in May 2018, adding that it is in consultation with the AGC as to whether further action, if any, ought to be taken in this case.

In a separate and earlier statement the same month, MOM said that employers who are found to be involved in the illegal deployment of foreign domestic workers can be fined up to S$10,000 per count and banned from hiring migrant domestic workers.

The Ministry indicated that it would be “especially egregious” if the workers are overworked and not getting adequate rest.

It explained that a yearly average of 16 employers have been fined in the past three years for illegally deploying their foreign domestic workers, and they were issued with financial penalties ranging from S$3,300 to S$24,000.

Actions were taken against 155 employers on average a year during the three-year period, in which 60 were issued advisory notices and 80 given caution notices.

According to MOM, an advisory notice is issued where the illegal deployment is “not conclusively substantiated”.

It serves to remind employers of their legal obligations under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations.

A caution is comparable to a stern warning by the police, said MOM, which would be issued when MOM verifies that the illegal deployment is infrequent or took place over a short period of time.

“The caution sends a strong message to employers that they must comply with the law or face stronger enforcement action,” MOM stated.

Additionally, the Ministry received a yearly average of 550 cases of complaints between 2017 and 2019 related to the illegal deployment of foreign domestic workers by their employers or household members.

These complaints make up 0.2 per cent of the over 236,000 foreign domestic worker employers in the city-state, in which 76 per cent were surfaced by third parties while 24 per cent were surfaced by the workers.

MOM reassured that each allegation will be “treated seriously and looked into”.

“A good number of FDWs [foreign domestic workers] who alleged illegal deployment had left employment when they reported the matter to MOM. Some of them requested assistance to return home with others requested to be allowed a transfer of employment,” it asserted.

However, the Ministry found that upon clarification with the workers, the workers had been deployed to care for their employers’ children or elderly people in most cases.

MOM noted that this is permitted if the workers accept the arrangements, are not required to perform the household chores of two families and their wellbeing is taken care of.

“To avoid any misunderstanding or dispute, employers should work out a mutually agreed job scope with their FDWs,” said MOM.

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March 2021