Eva (not her real name), a domestic worker from Indonesia, is staying at the HOME shelter in Batam, Indonesia. She would like to be working as a domestic worker in Singapore, but her previous employers forced her to leave the country. Despite abusing Eva physically and verbally, Eva’s employers were able to cancel her work permit, which meant that she could not stay in Singapore. With HOME’s help, Eva travelled to Batam, where she is trying to arrange to return to Singapore.
Eva had worked as a domestic worker in Singapore for many years. She took up her latest assignment in August 2013, taking care of a family with two young children. Her new employer was very particular about things such as the way vegetables were chopped, or the arrangement of jars in the cupboard. Small misunderstandings soon led to scolding and verbal abuse. Eva was also punished for mistakes by her employer reducing the hours that Eva could spend outside the house on her day off, and holding back her wages. The employer threatened Eva that they would send her back to Indonesia, or that they would hit her.
One day this threat became a reality. After she made a mistake, Eva was hit on her arms with a wooden spoon and slapped on the face by the employer. Once she was hit, Eva knew she had to leave the house. She had actually made up her mind months ago that she wanted to leave and look for another employer. However, in spite of having offers from other employers, Eva couldn’t accept any offer as her employer had refused to sign a release form.
In Singapore, migrant workers are tied to their employers by their work pass. Employers can cancel the worker’s work permit and send them home at any time. The foreign worker, on the other hand does not have the option to quit, unless her employer agrees to release her, either to go home or to transfer to another employer.
Eva left her employer’s house and reported the abuse she had suffered to the Ministry of Manpower and the Police, but decided not to press charges with the Police, as she wanted to move on and find a new job to support her family. Investigation by the police could take a long time, and in the meanwhile Eva would be unlikely to have been allowed to work and support her family. In the meantime, the employer cancelled her work permit. Eva had to leave the country..
The fact that migrant workers in Singapore do not have the right not to switch employers encourages exploitation, and forced labour. It makes abuse hard to fight. The difficulties encountered by workers like Eva to change employers, act as a disincentive for workers to report abuses by their employer. They feel they need to endure bad conditions in order to keep their job.
Eva is still in Batam, waiting for arrangements with a new employer to be finalised.