A foreign domestic worker’s agony

With teary eyes, with a shaking voice about to break down, my friend said,”I know where I stand, I know what kind of work I have, I know who or what I am in the family, I know and do my job, fulfill my obligations for the house and the family; I follow the do’s and don’ts.  Why does my madam need to keep on telling me every now and then that I am just her helper, that she is paying me?”

“Yes, she is paying me, but I am working hard for the money she pays me. I even skip lunch meals to meet her expectations, and follow all the commands she is giving me. I have to eat my dinner at 11 pm or 12 mid night, and do not even get enough food, at a time when I know my fellow FDWs are peacefully sleeping already.”   

My heart was torn into pieces as I couldn’t do anything to help my friend. I felt so angry at her madam. It was not the first time that I heard this kind of scenario. Even in the MRT or bus, I sometimes hear this from fellow FDWs.

Is being an FDW a crime or a sin? Are there no rights or privileges for FDWs?
You, the high and mighty employers, if there were no FDWs, who would you ask to make your home tidy, neat and clean, who would bring your children to their play dates, to their school–send and pick up, to their tuition outside your home, who would do the laundry, which  takes a lot of time and effort before it is done (washing, drying, then folding or ironing, then hanging it or putting it back to the wardrobes)? Yes, you have lots of money so why not just ask your money to do the things for you, and no need to hire an FDW?

The Ministry of Manpower (or MOM) have guidelines for the employer and the FDW to follow, but still it seems a large number of employers are not obliging. Just like in the case of my friend’s cousin, who is still new in Singapore, after 3 months. She is not allowed to use the phone, gets little food, but needs to work from 5am to 12 midnight. She rests only if she goes inside the bathroom. There are CCTV cameras planted in and out of the house, she can’t even go out to buy whatever she wants for herself, and she has NO DAY OFF!

She is the second FDW in the household. The other one has a spare phone that she keeps hidden from their employer. When I had my own day off few weeks back I personally hear from a friend that she was being locked up in their unit at the 17th floor every time her bosses went out. Which meant everyday, as both of her bosses work full-time. Why oh why? This is the worst story that I heard from a FDW. What if there’s an emergency in their block, or a fire, how can she escape? If it’s a matter of life and death, how will she survive? And yeah, there is CCTV all around that house also.

These kind of employers, do they deserved to hire an FDW?

An acquaintance of mine is working presently with an employer that buys her personal necessities and food including rice, but the amount is being deducted from the FDW’s salary. Meaning, the FDW pays back whatever amount is due. I was tongue tied, and didn’t know what to say except: Heartless! If they can’t, or won’t, feed another person that is added to their family, if they can’t trust a stranger that is working inside their house, and for their family, then why should these employers to hire an FDW?

FDWs are human beings too. Why do some employers need to insult, starve, maltreat us? Why do they feel the need to cut communication with our families? Because of this unfair, unjust, inhuman treatment, some FDWs run away and seek help from MOM or HOME.

I hope MOM will be more strict with employers who are heartless. May they listen to the voices of FDWs who are crying out loud for a fair and just treatment.

by Jo Ann Dumlao



10 thoughts on “A foreign domestic worker’s agony”

  1. No one is forcing you to work in Singapore. You go to Singapore on your own. If you are not happy go to other countries that gives better perks and benefits. Why can’t your country looks after you? Singapore must be the best country for you to work. Please don’t generalise one incident. I am sure the Singapore Government is the most efficient government in the world. The Government knows it’s action and it’s a fair government. The MOM will not change its policy just to suite the needs of the minority cases. Please move on to another country to resolve your concerns.

    1. Why not blame the employer rather than the employee for TAKING the abuse. Your completely ignorant attitude shows there is far more work to be done to bring attitudes about this into the 21st century (in line with other civilised countries).

      You clearly have no understanding of the law or FDW situations. To treat an FDW like this (no day off/inadequate rest periods etc) IS a breach of MOM policies. And the Singapore government is complicit IF it fails to take action in defence of such women who have no rights. There is so much work to be done in this country to protect the rights of FDWs and other foreign workers such as those who routinely die on building sites or are forced to work in the peak days of the haze when Singaporeans and other workers are all inside with air filters.

      I hope one day you are in a situation where someone takes complete advantage of you and you realise just how pathetic you really are.

      1. Thank you CMSING for the support and understanding the bad situation of some fdw’s who are helpless inside their employers home.
        Yes,we will continue raising our agonies and that fair treatment be given to each and every fdw’s whatever the race is.

    2. I didn’t write this base on my own thinking or belief,I wrote it for what my 2 ears have heard and talked with the personas itself.
      And a big Wow for you,Your Highness, the way you respond,it seems that you treat anyone the way as it pleases you!

      1. Jo Ann, thank you for writing this article. More awareness needs to be given to other people in this situation. The misery so many women have to endure (likely at the hands of people with an attitude like the poster up top here).

        Everyone knows this is not just one incident. It goes on in hundreds if not thousands of homes throughout Singapore every day. But people turn a blind eye.

        People shouldn’t have to put up with treatment like this. It’s slavery, no doubt. And so well done for raising it – particularly when faced with ignorant attitudes like people like R2D2 here. Rest assured, there are lots of people in Singapore who do NOT think that way and completely support the empowerment of FDWs via greater enforcement of their rights… and ultimately, the biggest tool of all, education.

        Best of luck.

  2. . No one is asking the gov to change its policies. This article is merely creating awareness of the awful mistreatment towards domestic workers. If your mother was ever a domestic worker in a home away from her own country and family, would u appreciate the fact and be happy that her employer was not feeding her, making her work 20hours a day without a day off and treating her like a slave? That type of treatment on anyone is disgusting and unnecessary. If these employers want a helper to help them with jobs which they can’t or don’t want to do, is it then too much to ask to be treated with some decency? To be treated like another human being? Before you make ignorant selfish comments, understand what you’re actually reading and think before you write or say something. Don’t be so foolish.

  3. With all due respect RD Rai, this article is to raise awareness to those who are actually the culprits and victims alike. Airing out one’s observation and experiences to what actually is going on in this country is not a crime. You are entitled to your own opinion and so are the FDWs . You may ask yourself, are a good or a bad employer ( if you are).

  4. With all due respect RD Rai, this article is to raise awareness to those who are actually the culprits and victims alike. Airing out one’s observation and experiences to what actually is going on in this country is not a crime. You are entitled to your own opinion and so are the FDWs . You may ask yourself, are a good or a bad employer ( if you are).

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