Category Archives: Domestic worker issues

Domestic workers fight for themselves

Novia Arluma works for HOME’s Indonesian helpdesk in Grandlink Square, where she volunteers on her Sundays off to help and advise other Indonesian Domestic Workers in Singapore. She wrote this story about a woman she saw there yesterday.

These photographs show some real living conditions of an Indonesian Domestic Worker who came to our HOME office yesterday. The woman told me she was overworked, ate only  leftover food ( which always came very late), and her room was improper – a storage room. From what I see at the helpdesk regularly, all of this are common examples of what employers give to their domestic workers. This domestic worker had to get up @ 5 am in the morning, to start doing her house chores until 11 or 12pm late at night.

Even the regulations of MOM (Ministry of Manpower) say that Domestic Workers should be treated fairly, that she needs reasonable working hours, proper food, and the privacy of a room to rest in.

MOM agrees, you should treat us like other workers. Treat us as human beings
But, most of this rules are  merely written on  paper.
As a domestic worker we can not complain too much about these matters.
Yes, we can complain…
Yes, we can report…
Yes, we have the option to transfer to another employer…
But in the end…
The employer still holds the power.
Because even when they are not treating their domestic worker fairly, employers have the full power to decide either to transfer the domestic worker, or to cancel the work permit and send them home.

We domestic workers have to fight for ourselves. We need to negotiate about a day off, our salary, and our release papers in order to transfer to another employer.

HOME ( the Humanitarian Organization of Migrant Economics) provides shelter and assistance to all migrant workers who need help, and that includes consultations from our helpdesk that is run by volunteers from different sending countries, like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar. Our volunteers are domestic workers themselves, and have been trained to understand their and your rights. Using volunteers that are domestic workers themselves helps HOME reach out better, and ensure easier communication, where needed in your own language.

Our helpdesks are open every Sunday:

Helpdesk for Filipino domestic workers:

  • 304 Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza #06-22, Singapore 23886

Helpdesk for Burmese workers:

  • 111 North Bridge Road, Peninsula Plaza #05-22, Singapore 179098

Helpdesk for Indonesian domestic workers and other migrant workers:

  • 511 Guillemard Road #01-06, Singapore 399849

 

Telephone hotline for domestic workers:

1800-797 7977 / +65 6341 5525

Are OFW’s our new heroes?

Anna Rose stayed in HOME shelter some time after a bad experience with an employer that left her very upset. In this essay she reflects about her experiences as an Overseas Foreign Worker in Singapore and at HOME shelter. She has now returned to the Philippines to be with her family.

Why do people say that OFWs are our new heroes? Do the OFWs (Overseas Foreign Workers) who try their luck overseas make a big contribution to our country, the Philippines? Many Filipinos want to move away from their motherland and work abroad because they want to turn things around for their families.

The majority of us know the risks of working in another country. We have heard a lot of stories of OFWs who suffered abuse from their foreign employers, there are enough to scare us, or at least make us think twice about working across the border. But still a lot of us Filipinos offer our services in other countries, carrying the desire and optimism that we will give our loved ones a better future.

There are a lot of reasons why people should appreciate what foreign workers do, and that is why they are considered one of today’s modern heroes.

Foreign employers like Filipino workers because they are hard working. Why? We have a strong motivation to take our job seriously. We want to make our employers feel that we deserve every penny that we receive. We have a strong work ethic and are professional, and we should be proud of that. Based on my own experience as an OFW I can also say that we are flexible, and can easily adapt to new environments. OFWs do not only take their job seriously, we also put our heart into it. Since we are thousands of miles away from our families, we divert our attention to the ones we are working for.

Unfortunately some of the OFWs experience maltreatment from their employers. There are many stories about OFWs experiencing abuse, ill-treatment, torture, and bullying, and because of this they decide to run away. We are lucky that there is a non-governmental organization that helps OFWs facing these kind of situations. They are the ones to take care of the OFWs, and comfort us when we come to them. They also have a lot of activities in the shelter that help us develop our self-confidence and self-esteem. They give us free food and safety when we live at the shelter, and they give us counselling, encouraging us to express our emotions, and feelings. They help all individuals with their problems, and give them advice on how to move forward, and face our struggles in life.

On my behalf, I was given a chance to write this essay, just to express my thoughts and give thanks to the HUMANITARIAN ORGANISATION OF MIGRANT ECONOMICS (HOME), to salute them, and all the volunteers, and the people who are part of HOME and serve all the OFWs by making a difference in the lives of people in Singapore.

Thank you, and more power to HOME!

What is the mental health of your domestic worker like?

Did you see the video of the girl from Myanmar that jumped from a high building?
What went through your mind after you saw that?

Are you:

Sad?
Angry?
Or just confused, and don’t know what to feel & say?

Dear employers,

As a Domestic worker I just want to say
Please take a look at this case
Which does not stand alone here
There were many more cases like her out there
This is a chance for you to learn about Domestic Worker’s rights
We are workers
We are humans
You hire us to work, and you pay us for that
But,
We have the right to communicate with our family & friends
We have the right to get a day off
We have the right to meet with our community

If we make a mistake
Of course you have the right to admonish us and tell us what we did wrong
But what you have to know
Is that before we came here to work with you
We already struggled to learn
Learn about your culture
Learn how to do the house chores as you order
Or even your language

Because of lack of education of domestic workers, including my own, this work is more difficult than you can imagine
And we are told that, if your employer is angry over a small mistake, even if you did not do it on purpose
The first thing you have to do is
Apologize or say sorry
We do already know how to respect the employer
We have already been told that we can’t demand too much
As a worker

We know this

But at least…
Treat us like a human
We need to be able to communicate with our family and friends
And give us a chance, to talk to you, when we find our work difficult
Please be aware about the risk for mental health issues
Which many domestic workers struggle with, when we don’t have anyone to talk to
If we have a problem,  we need someone to share it with, and help us find the solution

Being able to talk to other people, our friends, our family, will keep us healthy

We all know that we are here to work
And we are paid for that
And if you give us limited time to use phone, only after we finish our job
That is not too bad
We can still accept it
But,
Please treat us as a human being
Respect us,
Just like you would want to be respected

 This piece was written by Novia, one of HOME helpdesk volunteers, who works as a domestic worker in Singapore herself.

A day off

Off day- the favourite day of a domestic worker?

The off day can be the favourite day for a domestic worker. It is her time to go out, to meet friends and enjoy herself. But many domestic workers experience different problems with their off days as well. Some might have just one a month, some have to do work this day, some might not even have one. Here are some women staying at the shelter sharing their experiences with the off days.

Emi:

When I stayed at my last employer, I had one off day from work every month. In the mornings I normally woke up at 5.15am and I went to bed at 11pm, so when it was the end of the month, I felt excited. Soon I could have my rest day. I felt tired during the work days, I had no time to rest. I was supposed to have one off day every week, but the employer just gave me one per month.

All us domestic workers are waiting for Sunday, the off day. I woke up Sunday morning, cleaned the house, made breakfast and waited for my employer to wake up. Because before I could leave, my mam always checked my bag, my pants and my jacket. When she let me out of the house, she always told me:

“You must come back before 5.30, and be back on time.”

When I came out of my employer’s house I felt so fresh and like a butterfly. I felt sick of my work, no time to stop, no time to rest, and now I could go out! I was very happy. I could eat what I want, even rice and chili. I was sick of the food I had at my employer’s house. All the time noodles and sausage, noodles and sausage.

The first place I went on my off day, was to Paya Lebar to send money home. It always takes a long time to queue, sometimes from 11 until 1 or 1.30.

After I sent the money I went out to find another place where there is not so much people. Paya Lebar is a place where all Indonesian domestic workers come. I could see many people there, from a lot of different countries. I had only one friend, a girl who worked for a neighbour, near my employer. We bought newspapers, some clothes, sometimes our food. We sat down under a tree and I enjoyed my off day. I felt that I could finally rest.

Richy:

As I experienced the off day, I was always rushing. Before my off day, I would always plan where I should go and who I should meet. But before I went I had to do some work, I had to take care of the children, to feed them, shower them even if it is my off day.

Then finally at 10 in the morning I was off. I was rushing. I only had 9 hours to enjoy, to meet friends, to take pictures. If I had my salary, I first needed to send money to my home country. Off days for others is a very happy day, but for me I wanted to go by myself sometimes, to rest, to find a quiet place where I could reminiscence.

Sometimes, when I didn’t have enough money, I would stay in the house on my off day to work, although it was very tiring.

Sometimes on my off days I was scared as well. Outside the house, you don’t know who you can trust. I sometimes went to parties, but I didn’t stay long

When I came back from the off day, there was always some work to be done.

 

Sumarni:

I used to feel so happy when I had my off day. Then I could relax and meet my friends. We would go to the East Coast Park to see the sea. I could go to the library to read a book. I could also eat some food that was different from the food I had at home. My mind felt refreshed, because I could see many places that I hadn’t seen before. If I had a problem, I could meet my friends and share my feelings. After that my heart would feel happy.

Then, with my new employer, I never had an off day. I just worked there for 4 months, but she never gave me a day off. I felt tired and bored, every day doing the same thing, just work and work. The mam was always scolding me. In the end I ran away.

 

“Annalyn”:

The first six months in my employer’s house, I couldn’t take a day off because I had to finish my salary deduction. After six months, they allowed me to take one day off every month. Before I left the house, I had to do some chores, like cleaning the living room.

I left the house at 8 am and I needed to back at 7pm.

In the morning, I went to church to attend mass. After that I went to remittance to send money home. Then I met my cousins and my friends. We had long conversations to share with each other everything that had happened until the day finished, and it was time to go back.

When I reached my employer’s house, it was time to do some house chores again, before going to bed.

 

Leny:

The off day is a happy day because I meet new friends, see many beautiful places outside. I feel free and relaxed from all the stress inside the house. I go to church to pray that all my wishes for my family is granted, especially for my loving son.

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

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A story from HOME shelter

My life in the country is very simple. We live in a very small island in Luzon in the reef. Living there is very difficult for us because we need to go to universities or find jobs in another place than our island. We have to wake up early and ride in a motor boat. If the weather is not good or if there is a typhoon we have no choice but to stay in our house.

In 2010 it was not easy to find a job because of the global recession and that’s why I decided to apply for a job in another country. One of my friends invited me to apply to Singapore. Without any hesitation I immediately applied to a job as a domestic helper even if my parents didn’t approve. It was very easy to find a job, after two weeks the agency had found an employer for me. The job scope was general housekeeping with a salary of 450 and no off days. There was a 7 months deduction of the salary for the agency fees. Even if the work conditions are this way, I told myself that it was going to be easy and the days would pass very fast. I really wanted to help my parents and siblings and I didn’t want to stay in the house with nothing to do.

On the flight to Singapore in March 2011 I had mixed emotions. I was both happy and nervous, I felt like crying. But I decided to stand tall and I told myself: “This is it, I can do it for my family”. In my first steps in Singapore my legs were shaking, I didn’t know what to do or where to go. But then the agent came for me and took me to the agency accommodation. They trained me for 3 weeks first, and when the training was finished, they took me to my employer.

I had several different employers in the first months in Singapore, but with the 4th employer I stayed for 4 years and 2 months. There were a lot of challenges, but I was happy to be a part of that family. They were very kind and generous, especially my sir. All of them were good except the son. He is 36 years old, and lives in the third floor of the house. He was really challenging me. I had to come up there to clean his room, and he would insult me and call me names. He was very rude to me. I tried to avoid him and not talk to him, but it wasn’t easy. I still can say I passed, because I stayed there for so long.

Then one thing happened that I couldn’t take it anymore. My employer’s son hit me between my jaw and my ear on my off day. It wasn’t the first time he hit me, but the fact that this happened on my off day made it worse. I just couldn’t accept it, so I told my employer. This was the first time I complained about his son. My employer was shocked. He couldn’t believe that his son could do such a thing. He said: “It’s your off day. Go out and enjoy, I will talk to him.”

The next day was Monday and my sir called me and we talked about what had happened. Then he said that he would send me back to the Philippines. I asked him why, I only told him what had happened to let him know and for him to talk to his son so he wouldn’t do it again. I begged him to let me transfer instead, I wanted to stay in Singapore and find another job. But they had decided already.

After a week I decided to go to HOME to ask for help. I am very happy that they help me and that I was welcome to the shelter. My employer is now under investigation, so I can’t go back to the Philippines.

 The author of this story is staying at HOME shelter during the investigations into her case, and to protect her privacy, she prefers to stay anonymous

Dear Employer, Hear us, have a Heart

By Michelle Ortiz

I write this letter to get the attention of employers, on behalf of my fellow domestic workers, many of who can relate to this situation.

I’ve been working in Singapore for nearly 8 years, with 2 different employers and during my days off I often visit Lucky Plaza. There, I always talk to other Filipina’s. After we get to know each other, we like to talk about our jobs, our current situation living with our employers, and whether we are well-treated or maltreated. But this is not the main topic for us. If you ask a domestic worker whether their employers are good to them, they cannot answer you directly. They will respond with ‘I have no choice because I am afraid my employer won’t release me, and will send me home. So I have to bear with it, even though I’m unhappy.’

Honestly speaking, this is the most common problem for foreign domestic workers in Singapore, because some employers refuse to sign the release papers This means the domestic worker has no chance to find a new employer, their only choice is to renew or continue working with the current employer.

This is very unfair to us, because going back home, and reapplying for a job in Singapore again, is just wasting time, money and effort. There are a lot of papers to process, and some requirements that we need to comply to again.

Why is it so difficult for the employers to issue a release paper for their helper if they wish to transfer? Maybe they have their own reasons, but it is difficult to understand why they need to make things so difficult, where they can make it easy. Both parties could benefit. The employer can save money, by signing the release paper, instead of having to buy the plane ticket to send them home. This way, both parties can save time and money.

I will not generalise, but I know that many foreign domestic workers can relate to this. I wish that all employers could open their heart and mind, and consider this request. Also, I hope that MOM will request from employers to allow their domestic workers for transfer, if they wish to do so, especially those who have finished their contract.

I know that we all come here to work for a living, and earn money for our family back home, that’s why most of us just bear with it, even when we’re not satisfied, or ill-treated. Because we have no choice. I hope the employers of Singapore can hear us, and have a heart.

Thank you and May God bless us all.