DOMESTIC WORKER’S FORUM

By: Juliet Ugay

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) held a forum at SCWO on Sunday the 19th of June 2016, in celebration of International Domestic Worker’s Day.

At the forum several important topics were discussed: the live-out option for Domestic Workers, the announcement of the Indonesian government to send zero Domestic Workers abroad in in 2017, and the zero placement fees for Myanmar Domestic Workers.

The forum also addressed the ratification of C189, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Domestic Workers.

The session was attended by many Domestic Workers (DW), as well as HOME staff and press. Three Domestic Workers spoke at the forum, including yours truly, Juliet Ugay from the Philippines, Indonesian Novia Arluna and Myanmar national Moe Moe Than.

I, Juliet, spoke about the live out option for Domestic Workers, its advantages and disadvantages, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), the Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC) and the Overseas Worker’s Welfare Administration (OWWA).

Some of the advantages for domestic workers to live outside their employers house are: greater personal freedom and space, more access to help, less isolation from family and friends, fixed working hours, less control by the employer over the worker’s personal life, and more privacy. The disadvantages include the fear for increased security and safety risks, and increased cost and time for transportation. Some fear live-out DWs would be more vulnerable to bad influences, and that there could be an increased risk of pregnancy.

Novia discussed Indonesia’s announcement to stop sending domestic workers abroad in 2017. According to her, the announcement created confusion for many DWs, as Indonesia proposed a law making it obligatory for Indonesian domestic workers to live out at the same time. She mentioned recommendations to improve protection of Domestic Workers, such as ratifying ILO C189, which includes specifying more clearly items like working hours, contract, minimum wage, annual leave, sick leave, and the weekly day off. Novia also included the enactment of law in National level.

Moe Moe recalled her bad experiences at the hands of her previous employer, who abused her physically and mentally. She gave examples of their abuse, how they made her do jump like a rabbit around the living room, how they threw her food away when they were angry, and only allowed her to go to the toilet three times a day. Tree years after Moe Moe went to the police, her case is still in court (http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/couple-on-trial-for-abuse/2664324.html).

After that, Moe Moe discussed the problems Myanmar DWs face in Singapore. They include being underage, agencies overcharging, bad communication due to lack of English, abusive agents, no days off, injustice, long working hours, and women being victims of trafficking. Moe Moe expressed her concerns that that Myanmar DWs are more vulnerable, because they face communication problems due to their lack of command of English, and also their resilience in the face of abuse, which make it more difficult for them to ask for help.

Bhing Navato, the emcee of the forum, spoke further about C189, ILO’s Convention concerning decent work for Domestic Workers. She mentioned proposals covered in the Convention, which included minimum wage, weekly rest days, regulated working hours and many more that can improve jobs and lives of Domestic Workers. Singapore is among the countries in Asia who didn’t yet ratify the Convention C189.

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After the presentations by the speakers, the participants were asked to form three groups. Each group was given specific topic (live out option, zero domestic worker in 2017, zero placement fee) and was asked to discus the topic and come up with recommendations. A group representative then shared these recommendations to everyone.

The recommendations will be presented during a meeting of HOME representatives, MOM, Embassies and Domestic Workers.

Amongst the recommendations made by the forum were the following:

  • Living-out for Domestic Workers should be made optional
  • Abusive employers should not be given any more chance to hire another DW, and should be punished according to law.
  • POEA, OWWA and OEC should be made free and accessible for Overseas Filipino Workers
  • There should be zero placement fee
  • Laws should be passed governing the protection of Domestic Workers to and from receiving countries.
  • Errant agencies should be punished
  • DWs should be taught to speak English before they proceed to their place of work
  • And, most of all, Singapore should ratify ILO C189.

These are just some of the many recommendations made during the forum sessions. The DWs are hoping that these recommendations will be considered and reviewed properly by the relevant authorities.

 

 

Story of a Philippine Childhood

My name is Myrna and I am 49 years old. I am married, with 3 children and 2 grandchildren. I am a simple person who is a dreamer and who has a positive attitude in every aspect of life. This is the story of my childhood in the Philippines.

I grew up in a small village in Sison, in the province of Pangasinan. My father was a farmer and my mother was a housewife. My father was a very hard-working man. He worked every day on our farm to provide for his children. Even though the work was very tiring, my father was a very responsible husband and a good man.

My father planted a lot of things on our farm: corn, sweet potato, peas, spinach, eggplants and tomatoes. He also planted rice and tobacco. Sometimes I would help him on the farm, along with my brothers and sisters. Every morning, my mother would cook breakfast, prepare coffee for my father, and pack food for all of us before we went to school.

We had all kinds of animals on the farm, like goats, pigs and carabao (a type of water buffalo). We even had a fishpond, where you could see tilapia and milkfish swimming. But my favorite thing was to play with our lovely cats and dogs. People were always surprised when they saw our farm, because it looked like a supermarket! My father loved growing lots of fruits: banana, star fruit, guava, papayas, pomelo, and mangoes.

Every morning was busy in our village, with people either going farming or fishing. But the busiest day was every Saturday, because of the village market. On market days it was so noisy, with people laughing, shouting and selling their pan de sal. I used to go with my mother so we could buy clothes for my brothers and sisters. I remember the strong smell of garbage in the air on market days, and I was always happy when we got back home. Our house always smelled nice because of all the flowers in our backyard: orchids, roses, sunflowers, and many more. My family was very happy and contented, and we lived a peaceful life. Now that I am in Singapore, I miss those peaceful days, and my family, so much…

MY VOICE

By: Myla

MY VOICE

A place I can’t believe my humanity disowned

Fears and worries that I might one day break down.

People surround me; don’t know if they can be trusted

To whom can I run?

 

My strength is the root of my journey

From this place I called my second home.

But I don’t feel safe as cruel people live here

Am I protected from harm?

 

Wrong judgement of who I am

Discrimination because of where I came from

Dejection is what I feel now

Do you care or not?

 

Voice that has been unheard

Please lend me your ears.

I speak with a heart and God beside me

Hoping one day I will feel safe and you care about me.

No more worries from this place I called my second home

 

 

 

Kartini Day

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On Sunday May 8th this year, HOME held its annual Kartini Day celebration, combining Kartini Day, Labour Day and Mothers Day in one festive event at the Hollandse Club. If you were there, you must have marvelled at the women lounging around the hall, dressed in amazing batiks. All these women were Indonesian domestic workers, attending this holiday where Indonesia’s national hero and feminist Kartini is honoured.

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Raden Adjeng Kartini

All Indonesians know her: Raden Adjeng Kartini, or Lady Kartini. She was born in 1879 in Central Java. As her family was part of Javanese aristocracy, Kartini was lucky to be enrolled in a Dutch primary school, rare for a Javanese girl in those days. But at twelve, Kartini was secluded at home, deprived from further education in preparation of marriage. She started to correspond with Dutch friends, and became an important pioneer for women’s rights, particularly championing Indonesian girl’s education. Unfortunately Kartini died at a young age, in childbirth, but her spirit lives on: Kartini’s birthday is observed as a national holiday for all Indonesians, celebrating the life of this extraordinary woman as a mother to all.

 

What would Kartini have said if she lived today? Female emancipation has come a long way over the last hundred years, but Kartini’s work, unfortunately, is far from done. Migrant domestic workers still have fewer rights than other workers in Singapore, and are not covered by the employment act, which makes it difficult to protect them from abusive and exploitative employers. HOME fights for the justice as well as empowerment of these workers, it’s staff and volunteers, many of them domestic workers themselves, following in Kartini’s famous footsteps.

After that serious note, the speeches were over, and most of the day was one of celebration. There were musical performances, both contemporary and traditional, dance, singing, and to top it all; a fashion show giving us a modern take on Indonesian batik. The diversity showed us that batik, the traditional patterned Indonesian fabric, still has many uses today, from our very own Singapore girl, to elaborate ballroom dresses or much more practical daytime wear sarongs and kebaya’s. The women looked amazing, and the judges must have had a hard time choosing a winner from all the beauty paraded in front of them. In all categories, signing, dancing, creative writing and fashion, prizes were awarded to the most talented candidates. It was special to see these women, out of their standard uniform of shorts and T-shirt, showcasing that domestic workers have so much more to offer than plain cleaning, cooking and child-minding.

MyVoice congratulates all the winners on HOME Kartini Day

Fashion Show

  1. Dwi Hartati
  2. Yessy bt Sopandi Wanda
  3. Haney Palupi
  4. Tiwie

Dancing

  1. Mujiati
  2. Zarazarani
  3. Mariyati

Singing

  1. Ameliya Wati
  2. Faridah Nasri
  3. Mei Ismayani

Creative Writing & Poem

  1. Nur Fadilah
  2. Sri Winarsih

 

Photography by Dina Sartiman

HOME likes to thank the HOME Kartini committee for organising the event, and the Hollandse Club for offering the venue.

ARE WE LOSING OUR DIGNITY?

 

By: Maria Allen Cellan

Singapore has laws to protect foreign workers, including the right to rest days or Sundays off. This is to ensure that foreign domestic workers get enough mental and physical rest. But the reality is that many domestic foreign workers don’t have regular rest days. The result of this is low socialization and low self-esteem. By depriving domestic workers of rest days, employers are taking away our right to rest and enjoy our lives once in a while. This is a deprivation that most domestic foreign workers have experienced – not to mention that many of us don’t have proper food, a proper bedroom or an hour of rest a day.

Each person should have a sense of their worth and value. But as foreign workers we tend to lose our dignity; we tend to accept that we should just do whatever our employers tell us to do even if it’s demoralizing or humiliating. In some cases, we lose ourselves, our value and our self-esteem, then we start asking questions about who we are: Are we still worthy of respect? What is our true value in this world? We must realize that dignity is essential for any relationship, especially when it comes to an employer-employee relationship.

The fact is that how we are treated affects how we feel about ourselves. Some employers treat us with the dignity and respect that we deserve, but others do not. The stigma attached to foreign workers is getting worst these days. But we shouldn’t forget that we still have power and we can control how people make us feel about our dignity. We should set our own limits on what is acceptable to us and what is not. We must learn how to stand our ground when circumstances are not tolerable any longer.

We don’t even realize the real reason why we are dressing up on our Sundays off. It’s because we are in need of respect. We sometimes feel humiliated the whole week; well, at least once a week we can be ourselves and not slaves. It seems as though we are in a market place. We buy expensive clothes, shoes and bags just to add value in our lives. But how does it add to our human value?

We let other people appraise us and tell us what are we worthy of. We sometimes think that wearing all those branded expensive things will elevate our worth. But the truth is that dignity comes from ourselves. We should learn how to love and respect ourselves. We should know that we as human beings are equal. We shouldn’t let our job define us or let people mistreat us because we are just foreign workers. Standing our ground when circumstances are not acceptable elevates our dignity.

We as foreign workers must learn the truth about ourselves. The truth is that each of us has the highest value. All of us are striving to prove it in our actions and struggles. We must have freedom from the fear of being judged and we must have the right to stand up for our dignity. As the saying goes: “Society knows freedom when its people knows dignity”.

 

Image courtesy of TWC2

ALONE

 

By Myrna

 

I can see the flower upon which my life grows,

Blooming into a rose.

I see the hope and courage

In the strength of the petals.

 

As long as I am, I will be alone

But the flower will never wilt or die.

 

As my life grows back,

I shall become strong

I shall become only dependent on one:

That one will be me.

 

I will rise with my petals high

My life as a flower will bloom and prosper as I grow.

I may not be the pick of the patch

But I am just as beautiful as the rest.

 

I will stand as one, but not a lonely soul.

The tears will be far from my smile.

 

Myrna is a resident of HOME shelter, and wrote this poem as part of a creative writing class

My foolish heart

By anonymous

I come from a poor family, that has survived anything that’s been served on its table. I am the eldest among 5 children, of whom 2 are still young. I’ve always wanted to finish my studies, but life’s complications made it impossible. At the age of 17 I was already working. Things got worse when I got pregnant at the age of 22, and unmarried. I was abused physically, mentally and verbally by the father of my kid. This made me decide to go overseas, to earn for myself and my kid since my (ex)boyfriend at that time couldn’t fully support my child, as he has vices.

I have been working in Singapore for 3 long years. I had a lot of experiences. I gained some friends, but it felt like something was missing. I knew how pathetic it is to say that I was looking for love in this foreign land, when I actually came here for work.

But those feelings you have when you’re far away from home make you long for something that would make you happy, even if it is just for the meantime. I am not looking for sex or hook ups since I’m too emotional and I don’t go for games. So I registered with this online dating application that lets you meet people around you. I talked to a lot of guys on that application, and yes, I told them what my work was. I’m fully aware that most of the men there are looking just for fun, and here I was looking for something serious.

Then I spoke to this certain guy. A foreign guy from Pakistan, who came here to study as required by his work. We rarely talked at first as I wasn’t interested in him at all. Then, it suddenly changed.

One day he asked me to see him and do something intimate. He told me that love and relationships sometimes begin with one night stands. I don’t know what came to my mind, that I accepted his invitation and met him. And believe it or not, I fell in love with him. From then on, I always spent my days off with him. Stupid as I was, we never had any confirmed relationship. And the nightmare begun, when I found out that he was married and had a child. He lied to me about his real status. I didn’t end the relationship we had, even when I found out the truth, because he told me that his marriage was forced, and he got divorced 2 years ago. But as days passed, he kept changing his ways. He seldom spoke to me, and that made me upset .

I made my move by asking one of his schoolmates what was really going on. I wasn’t prepared to hear the truth that day. I was hurt to learn that he wasn’t divorced, and he was actually playing around. I made the decision to cut off what we had. And here I am, moving on.

With all the women out there, I just want to share my experience.

I learned my lesson well, though it still hurts me whenever I remember all the things that he and I shared with each other. To love in a foreign land with so many strangers is a challenge. I just want to let you all know that you can’t make yourself complete by letting yourself be close, and fall in love with other people who are fools. Just be cautious with yourself and be aware of people who will just use you for their own benefit.

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The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) is an anti-human trafficking organisation advocating empowerment and justice for all migrant workers in Singapore