The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is currently reviewing the medical check-up process for migrant domestic workers (MDWs) to allow certifying doctors to personally examine helpers.
This was stated in a written Parliamentary reply to Nominated Member of Parliament Dr Tan Yia Swam’s question on Monday (5 Apr) on which doctors or healthcare personnel are responsible for signing off on the home-based Six-Monthly Medical Examination (6ME) form for MDWs.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that the 6ME service was introduced in 2018 to give employers the option of having their MDWs complete their 6ME without leaving the house.
“This is more convenient for households with caregiving needs,” she said.
Under the service, healthcare personnel from an approved service provider will visit the employer’s home to collect the MDW’s blood sample, said Mrs Teo.
The test results will then be certified by a Singapore-registered doctor appointed by the service provider.
She noted that currently, the home-based service does not give the doctor responsible for certifying the test results the opportunity to personally examine the MDW.
“We are reviewing this together with the other measures I spoke about in the earlier sitting on 8 March 2021, to strengthen the protection of MDWs,” said Mrs Teo.
Settling-in programme linked to MOM hotline and NGOs, orientation programmes for employers among safeguards against MDW abuse: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo
Previously on 25 Feb, Mrs Teo said that the Government takes the protection of migrant domestic workers seriously and will let the law run its course in the late Piang Ngaih Don’s case.
Ms Piang was a Myanmar domestic worker who suffered abuse and torture at the hands of her employer in 2016, which led to her death.
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 Ms Piang, 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.
Chelvam is Ms Piang’s first, last and only employer in Singapore.
Charges are pending against Chelvam, who has been suspended from the police force, as well as Gaiyathiri’s mother, 61-year-old Prema Naraynasamy.
Mrs Teo outlined some of the safeguards that have been implemented over the years such as the settling-in programme for first-time migrant domestic workers, which connects them to the MOM hotline and NGOs which they can reach out to for help, as well as orientation programmes for employers to educate them on their roles and responsibilities.
The MOM works with an extensive network of NGOs who engage with and look out for migrant domestic workers in Singapore, she noted.
Touching on Ms Piang specifically, Mrs Teo noted that the Myanmar national had attended the settling-in programme and was in Singapore for less than a year when she died.
Mrs Teo said that Ms Piang had been examined by doctors on at least two occasions between six and 10 months of her employment.
Additionally, her employment agency had also spoken to her on two separate occasions.
“Sadly, on none of these occasions were signs of her distress picked up,” said Mrs Teo.
A statement by the MOM also noted that on her second doctor’s visit about 10 months into her employment, the same doctor that cleared her at her six-monthly medical examination observed a runny nose, cough and swelling on her legs.
“Nothing adverse was flagged to the authorities’ attention on either occasion,” MOM said on Tuesday.
The MOM, said Mrs Teo, will continue its review even as the case is tried in court.
The review would include the threshold for blacklisting an errant employer and improving abuse detection measures, said the Minister.
“As a community of support to foreign domestic workers, we have to do better,” she urged, as she appealed to the public to help as well.
“We can’t do it alone … If you are aware of any ill-treatment of foreign domestic workers, reach out to Centre for Domestic Employees or FAST for help.”
“There’s no place for FDW abuse in Singapore,” she concluded.
MOM said that Ms Piang had started working for policeman Kevin Chelvam — the husband of Gayathiri Murugayan, the woman standing trial for culpable homicide of Ms Piang, among other charges — in May 2015. It was her first time working in Singapore and Mr Chelvam was her first employer.
In the first six months of her employment with the family, Mr Chelvam had relayed the family’s dissatisfaction with Ms Piang’s purported work performance to the employment agency.
The agency had offered to replace Ms Piang multiple times, but Mr Chelvam refused.
It was during this time that the agency spoke to Ms Piang on two different occasions “but did not pick up on any issues”, said the MOM.
“Mr Chelvam and his family members had previously employed four other FDWs and MOM had not received any complaints or adverse feedback from them,” the Ministry added.
“MOM will intensify our efforts to reach out to and interview all new FDWs about their well-being, and also engage with healthcare providers to see how we can support them to identify cases of possible abuse,” the statement read.
Netizens, however, have said that the current measures are inadequate.
One commenter said that the Ministry should use migrant domestic worker levies to “fund a proper agency which checks on them very regularly at the beginning”.
Another commenter pointed out that allowing migrant domestic workers to be paid in lieu of an off day “is very dangerous for them as they are trapped n completely cut off from help and society” especially when they are not given a phone.
HOME reiterates call to allow domestic workers to live separately from employers
The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) on 25 Feb said that Ms Piang’s isolation 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”.
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”, the organisation said.
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.