I am happy to see the Straits Times forum letter [Forum: Slate of support services for maids] submitted by the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), which shows the support provided to our migrant domestic workers (MDWs).
Yet, despite all this existing support, cases of abuse still occur.
This shows us that the rights currently awarded to MDWs leave them insufficiently protected against abuse by employers. While it is good that CDE educates MDWs on their rights, a lack of clear regulation still leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
A study by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) showed that domestic workers are often allowed only a few hours off on rest days, if that.
Another study by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) highlighted the poor mental health faced by many MDWs due to poor working conditions: overwork, physical, and verbal abuse from employers, invasion of privacy, restrictions on communications, and so on.
MDWs are often faced with a large power imbalance in their employer-worker relationships. Recent cases of MDW abuse, especially the regrettable death of Ms Piang Ngaih Don, reinforce the need to go beyond educating MDWs on their already-lacking rights.
I believe we must better educate employers on this power asymmetry. We must also balance this asymmetry by strengthening MDWs’ right to initiate a transfer, regulating their working hours, and providing them with a mandatory rest day. Currently, access to such working conditions depends on the benevolence of employers.
‘Neither Family nor Employee‘, a research report by AWARE and HOME in 2020, makes similar recommendations. These are in line with ILO Convention 189 (C189) – which Singapore has not yet ratified.
I find Minister of State for Manpower Gan Siow Huang’s statement in Parliament that the MOM is considering mandatory rest days for MDWs to be encouraging.
Additionally, we should mandate, at minimum, 24 consecutive hours of weekly rest for domestic workers. This would greatly increase MDWs’ ability to seek out CDE’s support should they require it and improve their overall well-being.
Finally, I believe Singapore should ratify ILO’s C189, which sets the international standard for domestic workers to receive the same employment rights as other workers.
Given Singapore’s strong commitment to its treaty obligations, this would serve as a powerful step in supporting the well-being of our domestic workers, and further denouncing the abuse they suffer.