In a move that is slated to take effect at the end of next year, employers of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Singapore will be required to provide their helpers with one mandatory day off each month.
This is part of several of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s new initiatives to “strengthen support” received by MDWs in the country, said the ministry on Thursday (22 July).
The compulsory rest day, which MOM said “cannot be compensated away”, will “provide more opportunities for MDWs to form a network of support outside the household, as well as rest and recharge from work”, said MOM.
Touching on why the policy will take effect in end-2022, MOM said that it is aware that “some employers may need time to adjust to the new rest day arrangements”.
Other measures include:
- Enhancing the six-monthly medical examination (6ME) for MDWs; and
- Requiring doctors to record MDWs’ body-mass index and check for signs of suspicious and unexplained injuries.
They will need to submit these records to MOM for follow up if necessary, said the ministry.
This enhanced process will be implemented by the third quarter of this year.
Employment agencies will also be required to conduct post-placement checks to ensure that MDWs and employers are adjusting well, and offer support if needed, said MOM.
This will be implemented in the fourth quarter of this year.
The number of in-person interviews with MDWs will also be increased from once to twice in their first year of work, said MOM.
“This will provide MDWs and their employers with more opportunities to raise and resolve issues, and settle into their working relationship.
“This builds upon the earlier announced expansion of such interviews to cover all first-time MDWs by the end of this year,” said the Ministry.
To facilitate these in-person interviews, MOM said that it will set up three neighbourhood centres in partnership with the Centre for Domestic Employees, a government-linked non-government organisation.
The first neighbourhood centre is targeted to be operational by the first quarter of 2022, said the ministry.
MOM added that it will share more details on the various initiatives in due course.
Social worker Jolovan Wham, whose work also entails advocating for the rights of MDWs in Singapore, said on Thursday that the new one compulsory monthly day off policy is “pathetic”, given the nearly two decades of activists campaigning for such rights to be implemented.
However, he conceded that “in Singapore, we must be happy for any crumbs which are thrown our way”.
“Whatever gladness and relief I feel for this latest development is diminished by the thought that it took the death of poor Piang Ngaih Don for the government to finally concede that rest days, the most basic of basic labour rights, need to be ensured for workers,” said Mr Wham.
40-year-old Gaiyathiri Murugayan, the wife of Ms Piang’s employer, admitted to 28 charges including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation and wrongful restraint against the Myanmar national.
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. Her employment lasted for 10 months.
Charges are pending against Chelvam, who has been suspended from the police force, as well as Gaiyathiri’s mother, 61-year-old Prema Naraynasamy.
The High Court on 22 June sentenced Gaiyathiri to 30 years of jail.
Gaiyathiri in February 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.
Ms Piang weighed only 24kg when she passed away on 26 July 2016. Autopsy results revealed that she sustained 31 recent scars and 47 external injuries.
Gaiyathiri was initially charged with murder, but due to mitigating factors related to her mental disorders such as major depressive disorder, the charge was reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
In deciding on the 30-year jail term, Justice See took into consideration another 87 similar charges based on abusive acts committed over two months.
MOM had previously released a statement on 24 February, stating that Chelvam had employed four other migrant domestic workers before hiring Ms Piang, but had not received any complaints or “adverse feedback” from the workers about Chelvam or his family.
Ms Piang began working for Chelvam’s family on 28 May 2015.
The Ministry added that Ms Piang attended and passed her six-monthly medical examination on 19 January 2016.
She visited the same doctor in May 2016 for a runny nose, cough and swelling on her legs, but MOM said that “nothing adverse was flagged to the authorities’ attention on either occasion”.
According to court documents, the clinic was identified as Bishan Grace Clinic, as reported by CNA.
It was said that two months before Ms Piang’s death, the doctor had noticed bruises around her eye sockets and cheeks, but Gaiyathiri claimed that the helper was clumsy and fell down frequently.
The doctor had suggested further tests on Ms Piang’s swollen legs in case of underlying conditions, but Gaiyathiri rejected his suggestions.
Commenting on this, then-Manpower Minister Josephine Teo told the media that MOM is reviewing how doctors report these medical examinations, highlighting that most employers comply with the requirement of having their workers to attend such check-ups.
“Doctors also have a duty to report to the police or MOM if they are detecting signs of abuse or distress. We have made this point explicit in 2017, and we will have to further strengthen this,” said Mrs Teo.