Migrant Workers Continue To Be Exploited Because Of Their Nationality, Class And Gender

This International Migrants’ Day 2014, we stand in solidarity with workers all over the world in their struggle for dignity and human rights. Migrant workers make important contribution to their countries of origin and destination. However, in Singapore, HOME has been witness to the afflictions of thousands of migrant workers, who continue to be exploited because of their nationality, class and gender.

We have upheld that ‘Domestic Workers are Workersand should receive the same protections as all other workers in Singapore. No domestic worker should be made to work every day of the year without a day off, without limits to their working hours, without overtime pay, and other standard employment rights.

It is a shame that Christmas Day and other holidays is the right of all workers except domestic workers. In spite of efforts to improve their wellbeing, many of them continue to be abused, marginalized and discriminated against. Even though a law has been passed to ensure weekly days off for domestic workers, HOME’s experience has shown that significant numbers are still denied this basic labour right and attempts by domestic workers to claim it has resulted in instant dismissal and repatriation by their employers. The lucky ones who are granted days off are still required to perform household chores, or have to return to their employer’s homes only after a few hours of freedom.

The continued exclusion of these women from the Work Injury Compensation Act and Occupational Safety and Health Act means that the household is still a potential minefield for domestic workers. This year, HOME assisted two domestic workers who suffered debilitating injuries from falling out of a window. They were immediately dismissed and repatriated when the doctor certified them fit for travel. It was only with the persistence of HOME and our partners that we were able to secure compensation for one of the injured women. The fate of the other injured worker is still uncertain.

Construction work remains a dangerous occupation for migrants, in spite of many years of work site safety campaigns. In the first 3 months of this year alone, 19 workers died because of a work accident. Workers in all sectors continue to be vulnerable to heavy recruitment debts, excessive hours, earning wages as low as $1.50 per hour and living in decrepit quarters. When protests against such conditions occur, repatriation thugs are brought in to get rid of such “recalcitrant troublemakers”. There is usually little recourse for workers in such situations.

If they are HIV positive, they are immediately deported without post counseling or referral treatment services. The work permit and security bond system encourages slavery like conditions and human trafficking: passports are taken from workers and job mobility is mostly not an option.

The voices of migrant workers are muted even before they get hoarse. They are not allowed to register associations or form their own unions. Any industrial action will result in immediate deportation and revocation of their work permits. The Controller of Immigration and Work Passes have sole and arbitrary powers to decide the fate of a migrant worker residing in Singapore, with no statutory avenues of appeal. This is deeply unjust.

The SMRT strike in 2012, the Little India riot last year and the fire at a Geylang shop house this year which killed 4 have clearly shown there are many challenges before migrant workers can fully realise their rights. The road to dignity will be an arduous one, but HOME pledges not to lose hope and to persevere in the long march to freedom from slavery Happy International Migrants’ Day!

Give a Good Gift this Christmas

Give a Good Gift this Christmas: Support a migrant worker!

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Christmas is coming and at this time of giving we ask you to consider those who work so hard during the year and are spending the festive season away from their families. Singapore depends on the migrant workers who come here to clean, build and maintain our country. Show your appreciation for them this festive season by giving a ‘Good Gift’ via HOME.

For a small amount you can make a crucial difference to the lives of migrant workers in Singapore. You can support domestic workers in our shelter, enable a domestic worker to participate in a vocational or educational course or make a general donation to the work of HOME.

Christmas Gift Options:

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HOME Shelter

– $50 will pay for a domestic worker to stay in our shelter for a week.
– $200 will pay for a domestic worker to stay in our shelter for a month.

Sponsor a domestic worker in HOME shelter here, and mention in the comment field how you would like your gift spend.

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HOME Academy – become a sponsor!

Support domestic workers who use their time off to attend vocational and educational courses at the HOME Academy.
– $20 buys an English course book for a student. These are urgently needed for next semester!
– $50 helps support a student attending a sewing or baking course
– $100 helps support students attending elderly care and beauty therapy courses.

Sponsor HOME Academy here, and mention in the comment field how you would like your donation spend.

Make a recurring Donation

HOME depends on the generous support of members of the public in order to carry out our work and provide support services for migrant workers. If you would like to make a longer-term contribution, please make a recurring donation  here .

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Thank you for your support! A little goes a long a way and the migrant workers of Singapore appreciate your kindness. Have a happy festive season and best wishes for 2015 from the team at HOME.

 

Running for HOME

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Last Sunday, Jeanilyn Bermudez laced up her running shoes to take on the 42.195km of the 2014 Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore. And as she has done for the past few years, she dedicated her run to the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME).

With her winsome smile and wrinkle-free face, Bermudez’s youthful and energetic appearance belies her almost 50 years. Originally from the Nueva Vizcaya province in the Philippines, she arrived in Singapore in 1984 at the age of 19 to work as a Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW). Economic hardship forced her to shelve dreams of going to study at university. As the second eldest of six siblings living in poverty and a single mother to three children, her family has long looked to her to help provide for them.

I never kept a penny for myself,” she says. “Everything I made I sent straight back home to the Philippines.”

Bermudez’s desire to give back to the community extends to her adopted home in Singapore. She has been volunteering to help other foreign workers since 1990 and has been working with HOME for almost six years. At HOME, she has listened and been moved by workers’ stories of physical and emotional abuse, salary withholdings and interminable working hours. Stories rife with suffering and alienation.

My heart aches listening to such horrible treatment,” she explains. “But HOME is a blessing for them.”

So to increase awareness for the organization, Bermudez is dedicating this year’s marathon run to HOME. In 2012, her second marathon, Bermudez used her run to fundraise for HOME. She proudly handed over to the money raised in an official celebration ceremony upon completion of the race. That year, she also managed to improve her time from just over seven hours the year before to an impressive five and a half.

To train for the marathon, Bermudez builds her endurance by running, biking and even just taking the dog for very long walks. She is a little nervous for the run this year as she concedes she hasn’t trained quite as much for this race as she has in previous years.

After she finished her race on Sunday, Bermudez headed to the Harbourfront to perform a musical in commemoration of HOME’s ten year anniversary.

Bermudez pledges to continue supporting those who need her help and hopes that her success will serve as inspiration.

All my dreams are coming true and all my goals are being achieved. It can be done,” she says with a smile that lights up the room.

 

HOME UN Team invites interested volunteers to participate

As HOME has been granted consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), HOME is able to represent migrant workers at the UN level on the situation of migrant workers in Singapore and also for the countries who send workers to Singapore, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, China and Myanmar. Continue reading HOME UN Team invites interested volunteers to participate

What’s Wrong With Foreign Domestic Workers’ Day?

By Jolovan Wham
 
 
Last weekend, local group Foreign Domestic Workers’ Association for Skills Training and Social Support (FAST) and other partners celebrated Foreign Domestic Workers’ (FDW) Day, an event aimed at appreciating the contributions migrant domestic workers make to Singapore.  There were stalls selling food, and booths where participants could play carnival games. Dance performances and a talent show which featured migrant domestic workers were also part of the day’s festivities.  The event was attended by civil servants, local politicians, and representatives from sending country governments. I was told by many who attended that they had fun. Some of the domestic workers I know took part in the talent show and won prizes.
 
One of the objectives of FDW Day is to promote harmonious relationships between workers and their employers to stem abuses and exploitation. In her speech at the event, Senior Minister of State Ministry of Health and Ministry of Manpower, Dr Amy Khor emphasized the importance of mutual care and respect: Mutual care and respect underpins the relationship between the employer, his or her family and the domestic worker. Mutual care and respect enables strong working relationships of trust to develop; and this must be facilitated by open and respectful communication. I think this is really important. One of the highlights of the event is the ‘best foreign domestic worker’ and ‘best employer’ awards which has been organized for over a decade. This year’s best employer paid for the university education of her worker’s children, and the ‘best foreign domestic worker winner was described as a ‘devoted caregiver’ who was treated ‘like another family member’ by the employer.
 
There is nothing wrong in honouring these women’s years of service to their employers. However, when such awards are given without a similar commitment and struggle for equal rights, it reinforces the stereotype and perpetuates the narrative of the selfless, maternal figure who sacrifices herself for the family while expecting little in return. Historically and culturally, women who do household and care work are usually mothers, with love and affection from their families being the rewards of their labour. This has resulted in domestic work’s low status and exclusion from mainstream labour protections. According to Dr Amy Khor’s speech, this year’s winner, Ms. Chona Balisme, ‘looked after family members who were stricken by illness and required constant care.’ But details about Ms Balisme’s working conditions and whether she was fairly remunerated as a result of the constant care required by the family members are not known.
 
There is little doubt that the theme of this year’s Foreign Domestic Workers’ (FDW) Day, ‘mutual care and respect’ is important. But the organisers’ approach is incomplete because it continues to frame the issue of worker abuse and exploitation as problems which can be resolved through promoting good relationships, treating workers as ‘part of the family’ and celebrating their sacrifices while ignoring the fact that they do not have equal employment protections. We are happy to organize recreational events that show off their talents and skills, but not rallies where they demand their rights. We continue to view them as commodities rather than as people whose dignity should be upheld. We have discriminatory policies which we don’t impose on any other groups except domestic workers, such as forbidding them from ‘breaking up Singaporean families’ and from ‘engaging in immoral activities’. The labour movement continues to exclude them as there are no unions representing their interests. They also cannot protest at Hong Lim Park without fear that their participation may result in the revocation of their work permits.
 
When we celebrate their long years of service to Singaporean households, we forget that the years spent abroad may have affected ties with their own families, a social cost which countries that depend on the export of labour like the Philippines is paying a heavy price for. Studies done by NGOs and academics in countries of origin have documented strained family ties and re-integration of problems faced by workers who spend long periods of time working abroad. I have no doubt the sentiment behind celebrating domestic workers as part of the family is well-intentioned. But the danger in perpetuating and reinforcing such attitudes about domestic work is that it shifts away the emphasis on rights to that of ‘benevolence’ and ‘generosity’. Domestic workers don’t need an employer who is ‘kind’ and ‘good’ to her.’ What she needs is a decent salary and equal employment rights, such as regulated working hours, regular days off, sick leave, annual leave, and overtime pay. In some cases, abusive employers use the ‘family’ argument to deny rights. Since you are part of the family, it is acceptable for me to pay you late, or make you work long hours because family members make many ‘sacrifices’ for one another.
 
Policies which are are vaguely worded with phrases such as ‘adequate rest’, and ‘adequate food’ do not provide a standard that can ensure the wellbeing of every domestic worker.  In her speech, Dr Amy Khor said it was important to strike a balance in giving employers and their workers flexibility on how to interpret such terms.  She also said domestic workers must have the responsibility to communicate with their employers if they have concerns.
 
For instance, if they are still hungry, they must tell their employers, so that they will have the energy to work and be happier. Ultimately, open communication based on mutual respect and accommodation, is the best way to guarantee a good working relationship between the employer and the domestic worker. 
 
What prompted the Minister’s decision to delve into the dietary inadequacies of migrant domestic workers may have been because of a recent Straits Times article which featured the experiences of abused domestic workers from HOME’s shelter who were deprived of food. In the article, we had said that we were seeing an increase of such cases. It drew a response from the Ministry of Manpower asserting that complaints to the authorities over inadequate food were not on the rise. Nevertheless, the Minister’s comments urging domestic workers to be responsible for communicating their concerns to their employers when they are not given adequate food fails take into consideration the fact that domestic workers are silenced by fear of dismissal and reprisals from employers and agents who have the unilateral right to cancel their work permits.
 
Non-governmental organisations and trade unions worldwide mark International Domestic Workers Day on June 16th every year to commemorate the adoption of the International Labour Organisation’s Domestic Workers Convention, a bill of rights which sets minimum employment standards for domestic workers. Singapore’s Foreign Domestic Workers’ Day should not just be about model employees and their generous employers, important as they are.  Equality, solidarity, and non-discrimination are values that are worth celebrating and fighting for too.

HOME Pageant winner discovers her talents

In June this year HOME hosted the HOME Talent Pageant 2014, a unique pageant, that focuses on skills rather than beauty, and that aims to show that domestic workers have many other talents aside from cleaning and cooking. Six months after the event, we wanted to see how joining this pageant has shaped the life of its contestants. We asked HOME Talent Pageant 2104 winner, Enok Sunani, to share her experiences on the HOME blog.

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My name is Enok Sunani, and I come from West Java, Indonesia. In September 2001, I landed at Changi airport to work in Singapore as a domestic helper.

Back in Indonesia I never had the chance to attend school for financial reasons, so I took the opportunity to upgrade myself while I was in Singapore. I completed a computer course with HOME, and started English classes as well as courses in entrepreneurship.

Sisi Sukiato, who works for HOME, was the first person to ask me to join the HOME Talent Pageant. At first, I said no to her. I was very shy, and did not have confidence in myself. I am very short (petit), and I have a rather dark skin complexion. But Sisi told me I should try and make my country and fellow foreign domestic workers proud. So I was the first to register.

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At the time I registered for the HOME TALENT PAGEANT, I had just completed my first course. I started volunteering for HOME, in the HOME MUSICAL group, and was keen to help out at the English classes as a teacher, or assistant teacher as soon as I had my certificate. Then, I got caught up in the excitement of the pageant.

Now the pageant is over, but for me, it is just the beginning. Last July, I performed on stage with HOME KARTINI MUSICAL at the Hari Raya Mega Bazaar to raise funds for the needy Singaporean. We were all very happy to do this, even though we were all busy and fasting at the time.

I am really glad I joined the HOME Talent Pageant. What I liked most about the pageant was getting the chance to meet people from different backgrounds and communities. And off course, the sessions where we learned how to walk on a catwalk were great. I had never worn high heels before!

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We got to work with exciting people like supermodel Hanis Hussey, and performer Pamela Wildheart. These ladies have become great inspirations for me, and I really appreciate all their hard work, and that of Cristina Santos who was always there for us during our practices. And off course, I should not forget the HOME Talent Pageant committee, who are the unsung heroes behind the successful pageant. The committee, all foreign domestic workers themselves, was so friendly, kind and supportive. I salute all the candidates and committees for being professional and hard working!

During the HOME Talent Pageant I have learned to work with different people in the group, and found that communication was really important as we were all from different communities. I never knew I could do all the things I did onstage, and getting to know what my talents are is just the best thing that ever happened to me. I have gained a lot of confidence, and have even started to wear high heels more often now. What made me even happier is that and I was able to teach other candidates, and that I could practice whilst sharing what I had learned.

To me winning means achieving what you set out to accomplish, either personally, or as a part of a team.

And, last but not least … I am looking forward to the next round: HOME Talent Pageant 2015

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) is an anti-human trafficking organisation advocating empowerment and justice for all migrant workers in Singapore