Category Archives: Domestic worker issues

10 YEARS AFTER, BETTER OR WORSE?

By Juliet Ugay

Time flies! It feels just like yesterday that I arrived here. But it is now 2016, exactly 10 years since I set my feet on the ground of Singapore for the first time, way back in 2006. Gone are the days of adjustment and sacrifices. Looking back at those years that have passed, I wonder how Singapore has changed towards Domestic Workers. Let us look back at some of the events that took place in the last 10 years, and be the judge on whether things have improved since.

In the year 2006, Singapore issued a new standard contract for migrant domestic workers. The contract clarifies service charges and refund policies for employers, but does not guarantee a weekly day off for workers or cap excessive recruitment fees. In the same year, there were 42 cases of Domestic Worker’s abuse according to MOM’s statistics.

According to an article written by TWC2, which appeared on their website in November 2011, these statistics do not tell the whole story. Abuse can be difficult to prove, it may be a matter of a DWs word against those of her employer, and some domestic workers who have experienced abuse do not report it to the authorities.

The Philippines introduced a set of policies to strengthen the protection of Filipino domestic workers in 2007. Known as the Household Service Workers Reform Package, it specifies the following: the minimum age of Filipino domestic workers should be 23 years old; workers should attend a comprehensive pre-departure education programme; workers should not have to pay placement fees; and a minimum wage of USD400 should be provided. The provisions of the reform package have since served as a blueprint for bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and labor receiving countries.

On 13 July 2007, the ASEAN Committee on the Implementation of the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (ACMW) was established to ensure the effective implementation of the commitments made under the Declaration.

Based on my observations, though the policies have given some progress, we can see a lot of cases wherein agencies are still charging an exuberant amount of placement fees to applying DWs, taking advantage of the fact that applicants are desperate to get the job. Some Filipino DWs are still receiving salaries below the USD400 minimum wage.

In 2008, there were 180, 000 domestic workers in Singapore, mostly came from Philippines and Indonesia. Salary deductions or placement fees ranged from 6-9 months for a two-year contract. The ILO Governing Body decided to address decent work for domestic workers the following year.

In June 2011, the mandatory English language testing was scrapped, as it was found to be a major contributor of stress to new arrivals, a Settling-In Programme with modules on stress management, safety awareness and adapting to life and work abroad was introduced.

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Domestic workers during a Settling in Class

The year 2012 saw numerous changes. Singapore has announced a mandatory weekly rest day for domestic workers in March 2012. This new change will apply to workers whose permits are issued or renewed after January 2013.

The Philippines has ratified a landmark international convention 189, “Decent work for Domestic Workers”, that seeks to protect domestic workers around the world. The Ministry of Manpower bans maids from cleaning window exteriors unless supervised after series of deaths from cleaning windows.

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Domestic workers spending their day off by volunteering with HOME

With effect on January 1, 2013, Domestic workers are entitled to a one-day a week rest day. In an attempt to compromise, the Ministry of Manpower included a clause to allow for the employer to negotiate with the domestic worker and mutually agree on compensation in-lieu of rest days.

 

In 2014, all new, Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) Employers from 1 April 2004 are obliged to undergo a FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKER EMPLOYERS’ ORIENTATION PROGRAMME (FDW-EOP)

 

In 2015, the Indonesian Embassy announced in a letter to Singapore maid agents, that FDWs from its country must be paid at least $550 a month, up from the current $500. The last round of increase was in September 2014, from $450 to $500.

 

The start of 2016 has seen more progress. The Straits Times reported on January 21, 2016, that employers will have to pay at least $550 a month to employ a Filipino DW following a minimum salary of USD400 written on the employment contract issued by the Philippines Embassy.

 

Although we’ve seen some improvements in laws and changes in the system towards Domestic Workers in Singapore, still we DWs are looking forward to a more comprehensive protection against abuses and unfair working conditions.

 

Since the implementation of the one-day a week rest day for DWs, there are still many cases wherein DWs aren’t given a day off, and the number of run away DWs is still on the rise. Most agencies are still taking up to nine months salary deduction from new DWs. We encourage MOM to instate a stricter rule about days off and maybe it will be more helpful if a much bigger amount of the compensation in lieu will be given to DWs.

 

We also urge the Singapore government to ratify ILO C189, “Decent Work for Domestic Workers”. We also strongly push that Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore be included in the Employment Act and have the same rights and protection as any other worker in the country.

IN MY HELPER’S SHOES

On Sunday the 31st of January, I, together with other volunteers from HOME, attended the screening of “ In my Helper’s Shoes”, 4 episodes by On the Red Dot, a TV programme on Channel 5 which first aired on Jan 15 at 9:45 pm. The last episode will be shown on February 5 at 9:30pm. The show documents the journey and challenge of three personalities Benjamin Heng, Daphne Khoo and Paul Foster as they visit their Domestic Worker’s hometown and live in their helper’s shoes for a few days. If you missed them, episodes can still be seen via the toggle.sg website. The screening was at Library@esplanade and was attended by the Philippine and Indonesia Consuls, the people behind the show and Domestic Workers (DWs).

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Actor Benjamin Heng went to Ponorogo, East Java Indonesia, where his DW Yasinta lives. Yasinta, 35 years old and married with a son, has been working with the family for over four years. She started working when she was 19 years old. According to Yasinta, Benjamin’s family treated her like a family member. She said that she has learned a lot while working with them. Benjamin was surprised to see the well-organized house of Yasinta, and admired the fact that she owns a business, a chicken farm that will provide her family a good income in the long run.

Daphne Khoo, a Radio DJ and Singer/Songwriter went to Sorsogon Philippines. Her DW Yolly Dogillo, 47 years old and single, is the eldest of eight children in her family. She went abroad to work as a Domestic Worker because her work as a teacher payed so little compared to what she can earn abroad. She used her earnings to send her siblings to school. Yolly has been with Daphne’s family for 20 years. She has been living with her aunt in the Philippines. Yolly now owns a piggery. According to Yolly, her relationship with Daphne is the same as that of a sister, and they get along very well. They had supported each other since.

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TV Host and Actor Paul Foster took the challenge to go all the way to Capiz Philippines, to spend a few days living with her DW Bel Baltazar. Bel started working with Paul’s family when he was in his mid twenties. She was hired to take care of Paul’s niece. Bel, who has two sons, lost her husband 10 years ago and shortly after that she left her country to work abroad. Her family are farmers. Though it is tough to be apart from her family, she managed to pull things up for her sons.

These three personalities experienced so many things that they never seen in their lives. They were so caught up with their busy life in Singapore, that they don’t take notice of the other stuff regarding their helpers; their lives back in their country, their background, their statuses and their reasons for leaving their country. The experience was a mixture of emotions for Daphne, Benjamin and Paul. They got to know their helper’s family and even their friends and extended families. They took the challenge of planting rice, fed chickens, gathered grass for goats, visited the school of their DW’s kids, played with their kids, swam, bathed pigs and many other things. They even got to cook for their DW’s family.

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According to Ben and Paul, the experience of being able to visit their DW’s hometown, and meeting their families made a huge impact in their lives, and as a person. They get to know their DWs better, and that brought them closer than before. The opportunity was humbling, and the feedback they got from people has been overwhelming and positive. The biggest challenge that they experienced was the long travel hours, the slow Internet connection and for Benjamin, the slaughtering of the chicken.

The trip also served as an eye opener for them. Knowing their DWs in their own environment has made them understand their situation more. As for DWs Yolly and Yasinta, the visit has made them closer to their employers and their relationship has become better. They are very proud and happy to have had their employers visit their hometown. The biggest challenge for Yolly, Yasinta and Bel was that they were worried their employers might not like their place, the food, the people and that they might be uncomfortable being there.

 If you will be given a chance to do the same, will you take the challenge?

‘I can’t breathe here’

I am from India, I am married and I have a 2 1/2-year old baby. In my family I have one elder brother and one younger sister, my mom and dad, and my husband. I’m not from a rich family, I’m from a poor family. My family told me not to go to Singapore, but I told them I need to make my future and my baby’s future. I am in Singapore to earn money for my baby for their good study and because I want to make their good future.

Last Wednesday, I went to my employer’s house. I stayed for five or six days. In the house was my boss, my boss’s wife, the wife’s mother, the wife’s uncle, and a 3-month old baby. When I came, I told my agent I cannot eat chicken. They told me not to worry, my employer told the agency that I would only look after a baby. Not anything else. When I came to their house, they totally changed. Every time they made me smell chicken and fish. I told them I don’t eat it because I’m vegetarian, but they threatened to send me to the agency and told me, “The agency will send you back to India and put you on the blacklist.” Because I don’t eat chicken or fish, they only gave me one piece of bread and crackers.

My employer was a very bad person. Every time they tortured me. Every time they told me their house has a ghost, they said, “We closed your room with the ghost and the ghost will kill you and bite you,” and they told me, “We blame you, you stole my gold and you will go to jail for 15 years,” and they never let me take rest. I think they talked to each other about taking my phone, so I kept my phone in my bra. In their house, I never took a shower or washed my clothes on my own wish, only on their wish. I wore one set of clothes for three days. The whole family played politics with me; I go to clean the washroom, they say the kitchen is dirty, go clean the kitchen. I clean the kitchen, they say the washroom is dirty, go clean. I cleaned the washroom, cleaned the kitchen three, four times.

They told me they will push me outside the window, and they said, “The police will not do anything because we know all the officers. You are fresher, our family has been in Singapore since my grandmother’s time. We can do anything to you, but you can’t do anything to us.” They said, “You are not special, you are only a maid.” They think that I’m less of a person, like I have a fever or cancer. Don’t sit, don’t touch, you are a maid. They told me, “If you don’t do this or that, we will put our hot cigarette on your arm.” Every day they abused me, they called me “bitch.” Every time my boss told me, “Go to hell. You bitch, go to hell.” Every time. That’s why I’m very scared and want to go back to India.

I want to find good people and a vegetarian Punjabi family, otherwise I will go home. Now I want to go back to my country, India. Now I am full of stress and I want to go see my family and my child. I miss my whole family very very much. I want to go back to India and hug my mother. I want to put my head on her shoulder. I don’t know when I will go back to my country. I can’t breathe here.

This piece was written last summer during a writing workshop at HOME shelter, by an author that prefers to remain anonymous. After this was written, she found a new job in Singapore, but was unlucky again. She now wishes to return to India permanently.

BE EDUCATED ON HEALTH ISSUES

By: Saturnina “Cute” De los Santos Rotelo   

As we always say: health is wealth. But how many Domestic Workers actually take notice of this? Every migrant has a medical examination when they leave their country of origin, so they think or believe they are healthy. HOME ROSES is a group that educates migrants about important issues relating to their health.

Domestic workers have limited benefits in terms of health issues, and they never pay so much attention to their health, as it costs money for them just to consult a doctor. Besides, they often have little or no knowledge about their health, and don’t know how to live healthily and take extra care not to worsen their physical condition.

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HOME ROSES was founded under the umbrella of HOME. ROSES is an acronym, where the R stands for Relationship, O for Obligation, S for Sexuality, E for Education, and S for Social Support. HOME ROSES has a mission and vision to fulfill to the migrants. We do our best to educate them through training and seminars, we give them a certificate of participation and a small gift with information on where to ask help or advice regarding health issues, like Diabetes, Hypertension, Breast and Ovarian cancer and other health matters including HIV/AIDS.

I have been involved in educating migrants on health issues as a Volunteer of HOME for the last 8 years. With HOME ROSES we have conducted training sessions and seminars to migrant men and women of all races, religions, and nationalities. We invite speakers from external parties like Standard Chartered Bank, HIV/AIDS champions, (AFA) Action for Aids, Doctors and also our very own Dr. Win. The topic of many seminars is the prevention of HIV/AIDS, a disease of which many people unfortunately have little knowledge.

The Health Promotion Board Singapore (HPB) is a great help to HOME by providing knowledgeable information, and advertisements to reach out to the migrants, many of whom still have no weekly day off. This is a very interesting education and a great help to the migrants.

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The workshops teach migrants how protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases , and also how not to get pregnant, as the law in Singapore does not allow domestic workers to become pregnant.

Working abroad is not an easy job, you miss your loved ones, when you are sick you are alone and as a human you need love, care and even a shoulder to cry on when you are down.health4

As my journey continues as the President of this HOME ROSES, I and my fellow volunteers will continue to fulfill the mission and vision of HOME ROSES as we devote our day off, time, and knowledge to make things possible. More than 2,000 migrants have benefited of this free education, thanks to our generous donors, sponsors, and HOME.

The HOME ROSES would like to THANK YOU ALL for helping HOME and it’s project.

“ Prevention is better than cure. Be equipped with health knowledge as Health is Wealth.”

VULNERABILITY

By: Maria Allen Cellan

I often used to feel envious whenever my friends working abroad shared their photos on social media: they were always smiling from ear to ear, roaming around with their new-found friends, exploring a city where everything was new. Seeing those photos, reading and hearing their stories and being at the receiving end – I just knew that life outside my country was so much better. But when I found myself in their shoes, I realized that being a domestic worker isn’t necessarily always better and it simply isn’t for everyone.

Working abroad as a Filipina domestic worker is a tough experience. Being away from our family and friends is hard to cope with. The homesickness that strikes us every night and the silent crying are just a few of our struggles, not to mention the challenges of how to survive living in another country. We need to learn their culture and language. We need to adapt ourselves to a new environment with no families and no friends. Being away from them is the hardest part. The thought that the grass is always greener on the other side is gone now that I have seen for myself what the real life of a domestic worker is. Some of us don’t have a regular day off, no friends, no proper food, no phones and no proper bedroom. And all of this leads us to vulnerability.

What does vulnerability mean? In this context, it can be defined as the weakened susceptibility of an individual to evaluate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a man-made jeopardy. Vulnerability is most associated with poverty, people who are isolated, insecure and defenseless in the face of risk and stress.

Domestic workers are susceptible to vulnerability. The innocence of our hearts makes us vulnerable when dealing with society and with our employers. Lack of education, lack of knowledge, cultural beliefs and even lack of socialization are some of the factors of being vulnerable to what some call a harsh society. Being a domestic worker is not easy. We are being discriminated against because of our race; low income and other factors can make us more vulnerable. We tend to accept the reality that we are one of those minorities. Some treat us as a weaker group that does not belong in a class society. We are the poor amongst the poorest.

We try to forget our feelings of isolation by getting involved in activities like sports, religious or cultural events to distract ourselves from being different from others, but we end up being discriminated against by harsh people. Photos of our events are posted in social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc., but what do we get? Negative bashing from society. If only this society would understand the feeling of being vulnerable in a foreign country, maybe they would treat domestic workers in a fair way. If only they could wear our shoes and walk our steps, maybe they would have compassion for us. We are not asking for more, we don’t even like to be petty; we just want to be treated fairly and not be treated unjustly, like slaves. We wish that society would see us as vulnerable human beings, and not just as domestic workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VULNERABILITY

By: Maria Allen Cellan

 

 

I often used to feel envious whenever my friends working abroad shared their photos on social media: they were always smiling from ear to ear, roaming around with their new-found friends, exploring a city where everything was new. Seeing those photos, reading and hearing their stories and being at the receiving end – I just knew that life outside my country was so much better. But when I found myself in their shoes, I realized that being a domestic worker isn’t necessarily always better and it simply isn’t for everyone.

 

Working abroad as a Filipina domestic worker is a tough experience. Being away from our family and friends is hard to cope with. The homesickness that strikes us every night and the silent crying are just a few of our struggles, not to mention the challenges of how to survive living in another country. We need to learn their culture and language. We need to adapt ourselves to a new environment with no families and no friends. Being away from them is the hardest part. The thought that the grass is always greener on the other side is gone now that I have seen for myself what the real life of a domestic worker is. Some of us don’t have a regular day off, no friends, no proper food, no phones and no proper bedroom. And all of this leads us to vulnerability.

 

What does vulnerability mean? In this context, it can be defined as the weakened susceptibility of an individual to evaluate, cope with, resist and recover from the impact of a man-made jeopardy. Vulnerability is most associated with poverty, people who are isolated, insecure and defenseless in the face of risk and stress.

 

Domestic workers are susceptible to vulnerability. The innocence of our hearts makes us vulnerable when dealing with society and with our employers. Lack of education, lack of knowledge, cultural beliefs and even lack of socialization are some of the factors of being vulnerable to what some call a harsh society. Being a domestic worker is not easy. We are being discriminated against because of our race; low income and other factors can make us more vulnerable. We tend to accept the reality that we are one of those minorities. Some treat us as a weaker group that does not belong in a class society. We are the poor amongst the poorest.

 

We try to forget our feelings of isolation by getting involved in activities like sports, religious or cultural events to distract ourselves from being different from others, but we end up being discriminated against by harsh people. Photos of our events are posted in social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc., but what do we get? Negative bashing from society. If only this society would understand the feeling of being vulnerable in a foreign country, maybe they would treat domestic workers in a fair way. If only they could wear our shoes and walk our steps, maybe they would have compassion for us. We are not asking for more, we don’t even like to be petty; we just want to be treated fairly and not be treated unjustly, like slaves. We wish that society would see us as vulnerable human beings, and not just as domestic workers.