Tag Archives: domestic worker

The business of making money from ‘maids’

By Jessel

Jessel is a domestic worker from the Philippines currently staying at the HOME shelter. She shares with us her story of her agent, who when she complained about having been deceived with a false contract, send Jessel a text message stating ‘I told you before my business is making money’.

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‘Getting married at an early age is quite difficult. At 19, I gave birth to my eldest daughter, and the following year to my second. Life was hard with my husband having no permanent work. So I decided to apply for work abroad, in Singapore. Applying to work in another country takes time, money and patience. My first attempt failed and I had no choice but to stay with my family. I gave birth to my third and fourth child.

At that point, life got even harder. When my youngest son turned two I decided to apply again to work in Singapore. I had to pay six months of salary to the agent, but my employer let me pay small deductions every month. I was lucky, my employers were good people. I felt at home with them, even if I did not have any days off and they did not allow me a handphone. The first three months were hard. I missed my children. I cried a lot. But I got through that, as my family in Singapore was treating me well. After two years, my contract finished, and I had to find another employer. I did not go home to take a vacation because I wanted to earn money. To transfer I had to pay two months of salary to the agent again.

My second employers were good people too. They treated me as family. When my mam gave birth, I felt like I was having a baby too. After a year and a half, I made a mistake that I regret badly. I decided to go back home. My mam wanted me to stay, and I am now very sorry she agreed to send me home.

Life back home was difficult, as I did not have any income and could not provide for my four kids. I felt so down. I applied for a job in Singapore again. Processing went very fast and after only one month I was back in Singapore. I was very shocked when the agent told me seven months of my salary were going to be deducted as an agent fee. I did not get to see my contract until I had been working for the new employer for three weeks already. By that time I had little choice but to sign it. I felt that I had been fooled. Why had they not told me this when I was still in my own country? They had said that because I had worked in Singapore before, I would be a direct hire and would only get four months of salary deductions, spread out over a longer period. I had trusted them to tell the truth. Another mistake.

This time, I had left for Singapore together with a friend, through the same agency. My friend’s contract stated she would pay four months of salary deductions, and that they were going to be spread out over ten months, just like we were promised. Me, I would not have any money to send home to my family for seven months.

I asked my agent, who had turned out to be my mam’s sister, why my loan was so much higher than my friends. The agent said my friend was different, but when I asked why, she would not answer me. Neither did she answer me when I asked to go home. When I told the agent I was very disappointed in her, she texted me back, saying: ‘I told you before my business is making money.’

I thought I was very strong. I thought I had patience. But now, I started to feel unhappy with my work. Every time my mam raised her voice to her kids, every time I even saw her, I felt nervous. I could not fight the thoughts anymore about my own kids, now I could not send them any money. If I can’t send any money to my kids, they will starve. I was worrying so much I could not work properly. I felt depressed. I wanted to go home. That is why I ran away .’

HOME has managed to negotiate a reduction of Jessel’s agency fee, and she is hoping to find a new employer soon. It is common for domestic workers to find upon arrival in Singapore that agent’s fees are higher than agreed. Since contracts are either substituted, or not signed until after they have arrived at their employer’s house, domestic workers find they have little choice but to accept the new conditions.

 Singapore’s Employment Agencies Act stipulates that agencies are allowed to charge a maximum of two months salary as a fee to foreign workers entering Singapore, yet most workers end up with a debt that is much higher, either knowingly or unknowingly. Singaporean agencies justify charging higher fees by claiming it is not a debt but a loan, or by claiming that they are merely asking workers to pay off fees charged by agencies overseas, for which they have no responsibility.

The Philippines government regulations stipulate that domestic workers should not be charged any agency fee. By allowing agencies to charge up to 8 months salary, and more in some instances, the Singapore government has contravened its own laws and also violated the Philippine government’s regulations.

Mother’s Day off

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By guest writer and HOME volunteer Karien van Ditzhuijzen

On Sunday morning I find myself badly hung-over, baking thirty cupcakes for a birthday, preparing a quiche and a pile of salmon cream cheese wraps for a picnic, whilst simultaneously trying, with my hip, to shoo off kids that keep pulling at my skirt for attention. ‘Get out of the kitchen; entertain yourself for a minute, will you. Mama is busy, or do you want to go to school empty handed tomorrow?’

I plod on, head throbbing, and not so silently cursing the fact that there is no time off, ever, for a mother, that we have to work 24/7, with no time to rest and no time to clear our heads from the constant screaming. And that we hardly get any appreciation for all our hard work, only on that once yearly commercial trap called Mothers Day. Downing another panadol I curse myself for staying out too late and drinking too much, and for not doing all this the day before. The day when I had an extra pair of hands around the house.

I could now write that this experience made me understand the fact that some parents do not give their domestic worker a day off on Sundays. But that would not be true. Even in my miserable sick-to-the-stomach state, I realised that it was not all about me. That there is one group of people even worse off than parents: foreign domestic workers. These brave women who travel to a different country, and leave their own kids to take care of those of someone else. They get up before their employers do, to prepare breakfast, and don’t finish until the last dinner plate is washed up and put away. Or later, if the whim of the employer wants it that way. In Singapore, domestic workers are not covered by the employment act, which means there are no laws regulating their salary, working hours, days off, sick leave, annual leave, overtime pay, or any of those things other workers have a right to. A domestic worker is totally dependent on the generosity of her employer.

Sure, there are many employers that treat their domestic workers well. They even call her part of the family. The problem is, a family member, like a mother, has really crappy collective labour agreements. Family, like a mother, does not get paid, time off, sick leave, treated considerately, et cetera. A domestic worker would be better off protected by clear regulations. Clearer than the recent law in Singapore, claiming that domestic workers have the right to a day off, but still leaving a loophole by stating the worker can be offered extra payment in lieu if she does not get one.

So yes, it sometimes bugs me that as a mother I never get any time off, nor the appreciation I deserve. Yet, I feel utterly blessed that six days a week, I do get that extra help that makes my live infinitely more easy. Next Sunday it will be Mother’s Day. But I know someone who deserves to be spoiled much more than I do.

Photo by Jolovan Wham, taken at the HOME labour day celebration picnic, which we had to celebrate on the Sunday after, as most domestic workers were not given Labour Day off to celebrate on the actual day.

‘A maid strong as a tree’ by Marylin

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Marylin (not her real name) is a domestic worker from the Philippines. During a story writing class for women staying the HOME shelter, Marylin wrote about the problems she faced with her employer. She ran away because she could no longer stand the treatment she received. Marylin is currently waiting to find out whether she can transfer to another employer, or needs to return home to the Philippines.

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During the phone interview, when I was still in my country, my employer told me about her family: she said that she was married and had three kids. But when I arrived in their house, I was shocked because there were so many members of the family in the house, which means more people to take care of. More than she mentioned during the phone interview. But even still, I had to accept it and stay, because I was already there.

They let me sleep in the living room without a blanket. I had to hand-wash all the clothes, everyday, hand-mop the floors, and iron everything. I needed to wake up very early to do all this work, with no rest at all until late at night. They did not give me enough food. Every day I felt hungry, until my cousin sometimes bought me food. I thought that if I stayed with them longer and worked harder, they would change, but they did not.

Every time they yelled at me I stayed very humble, obedient, and I did not answer back at all. But I am a human so I do get hurt. I am not a tree that bends and sways, and needs only air and water for survival. Sometimes, if a very strong wind comes, even the tree gets uprooted or the branches will break. How much more will this wind do to a human?

If you throw a bone for a dog to catch, the dog needs to run before catching it, and he does it happily. There is always proper food for a dog, sometimes more than for a human.

Maids, helpers; they will not run away if their employers treat them as a human.