COVID-19 has created chaos across the world. All countries are fighting the viral pandemic and try to stop the spreading the virus and keep their people safe. Just like in Singapore: new regulations are made according to the changing conditions continuously. But there is a lot of misinformation and most people find it hard to keep track.
Due to lock downs and travel restrictions many people find themselves without income. Everyone is affected, including foreign domestic workers. And as usually, it is the most vulnerable that suffer the most. But this is not the right time to talk with loud voices and anger. Instead, Novia Arluma, one of HOME helpdesk volunteers, shares some real-life stories of how COVID-19 created problems for some domestic workers and how she tries to help by supplying them with correct and up to date information.
The situations described below happened in the last few weeks, and in the meanwhile rules keep changing. Please refer to government websites for up to date information and read this message on our HOME website. If you have any concerns, please contact the HOME helpdesk.
JOB LOST ON HOME LEAVE
Last Sunday I was in a workshop as part as my volunteer activity with HOME when someone called me from my country, Indonesia. Unfortunately, I was unable to pick up the call. Then, I got a text message and I could feel that who sent it was in panic and shock, she didn’t know what to do. The woman is my fellow domestic worker, who is on home leave after renewing her contract with the same employer. Earlier, she had told me about her employer’s offer for her new salary, which she agreed with and then happily took her home leave to visit her family.
Just after 3 days at home, her employer called her and said that they chose to cancel her work permit, for safety reasons. I felt sorry for her, knowing it was unfair, but I also know that we can’t do much about these situations. I know that she is allowed to come back to Singapore, as long her employer takes their responsibility. They can either allow her to serve her ‘Stay Home Notice’ in their house, or if they can afford it, find her other accommodation for the 14 days isolation required by the government. But her employer did seem not willing to work on it; they did not want to take the risk. The domestic worker was shocked, sad; feeling lost and angry at the same time. She feels helpless and is still trying to figure out what happened to her, why she lost her job.
MANY CONFUSED WHEN STUCK IN HOME COUNTRY DURING LEAVE
Meanwhile, there are many other domestic workers who are still waiting nervously, unsure whether they can come back to continue their jobs. Because the employer can’t find accommodation for them to serve the home leave. Or because flights have been cancelled.
My fellow domestic workers on home leave feel distressed. They are confused about the information given, which is often conflicting and changing all the time. They are still trying to understand information that they just received, when new information and new regulations come in already. And some are making things worse, by spreading more information than just the actual regulations itself. Like claiming you can be blacklisted or banned from working in Singapore, without explaining in detail about when or why this can happen.
I am fully aware that many domestic workers do not fully understand the information and regulations available. At our Indonesian Helpdesk, I try to focus on those who do not really understand what is going on. I focus on those who are not free to use their mobile phone, and therefore not always have access to the right information. I do not want them to be in a blank, because that will make them feel unsafe.
I have to do something to counter this situation.
NOT UNDERSTANDING REGULATIONS LEADS TO STRESS
I receive a lot of questions regarding COVID-19 issues trough messages, and I do not have enough time to answer one by one: I also have my own job as I work as a domestic worker myself too. The questions I receive are similar, and I also observe on social media how domestic workers panic when they are given updates of new regulations by their friends, without any explanation. Different reactions and expressions can be seen. There is anger …sadness …fear …stress and a feeling of unsafety.
So I am starting to put together all the information I have about the COVID-19 issue, both in Singapore and Indonesia. And all the regulations specifically for migrant workers that we have to know. I connect the questions and the answers, including the reasons behind. I try to give the best advice I can give them, advice for the sake of everyone’s safety. But still, even when they have the information, I notice they need more: they need to feel that we are there to listen to them and understand their feelings.
My concern is now, that I want to help calm my fellow domestic workers down. I want them to be aware that COVID-19 is a serious issue, that everyone should take it seriously. But yet … we should not panic.
So when I hear about a problem of a domestic worker that is stranded in her home country, I try to look at it from different angles. Both that of the worker and that of the employer. Because the employers do not find this easy either, they have to pay for expensive accommodation or multiple air tickets when earlier ones have been cancelled. Honestly, it’s hard for both sides. And unfortunately, we cannot do much but to follow the regulations, for the sake of everyone. All of us have to fight COVID-19 together. So I ask my fellow DWs to be patient. I tell them I understand what they are feeling.
On the other hand, I also see some employers trying to take advantage of the situation. They do not allow their domestic workers to have a day off, and do not want to pay the compensation. Some need to stay home but they have no own room, no privacy at all.
I HOPE EMPLOYERS UNDERSTAND WHAT WE FEEL
By telling these stories about Domestic Workers feelings, I hope that people out there, particularly employers, will understand us better. We try our best to understand your concerns too. We try our best to understand why certain regulations are made. But it is also the job of employers to explain the reasons behind their decisions. Employers should talk to us in a nice way, explain their concerns and reasoning. I am sure that with simple explaining and good communications between employer and domestic worker, everyone can come to an agreement in a respectful way.
We all understand that we have to do our part to fight the virus.