Initiatives to Support Caregivers Should Include Foreign Domestic Workers

This letter was submitted to the Straits Times’ forum page and an edited version was published on 8 September 2017.

We are heartened by the increased recognition amongst community partners that caregiver burnout is a serious problem, and the subsequent efforts made to implement support programs (‘Need help as a caregiver?’; 4 Sep 2017). We hope this movement to appreciate caregivers includes foreign domestic workers (FDWs), who play vital roles as caregivers in many households in Singapore. Some employment agencies estimate that up to 70 percent of families hire domestic workers to care for aging parents (‘Eldercare: More home and daycare services’; 5 Jun 2016).

In HOME’s experience, overwork and a lack of rest days are common problems faced by domestic workers and core contributors to work stress. Most are expected to undertake not only primary care duties — sometimes for multiple persons — but also a wide range of household chores. These issues are exacerbated by inadequate training to prepare domestic workers with the specialized demands of care work, particularly if it involves persons with disabilities or serious illnesses. In extreme cases, caregiver stress can take its toll and result in tragedies, where caregivers, in fits of desperation or psychological distress, end up harming their charges and/or themselves.

To ensure the wellbeing of FDW caregivers, we recommend the following:

  • Weekly rest days for domestic workers, so they are able to socialize with others and relieve stress. Households should be able to avail of affordable caregiver services on the FDW’s rest days;
  • Reasonable working hours and sufficient food, so that FDWs are well-rested and have the energy to carry out their duties;
  • Ensuring mobile phones are not confiscated and their use not unduly restricted. FDWs, placed in unfamiliar environments and households, need to be able to stay in touch with their families and community in Singapore;
  • Adequate preparation and training for caregivers, including training on how to care for the elderly, as well as persons with special needs. HOME Academy currently provides extensive training for FDW caregivers looking after the elderly, from a full one-day session to a staggered six-month course.

The burden on caregivers is set to rise as Singapore’s aging population grows: one in seven Singaporeans is currently 65 or older; by 2030, this figure is expected to rise to one in four. The National Population and Talent Division estimates that the number of FDWs in Singapore will increase from 239,700 FDWs at present to 300,000 FDWs by 2030. It is crucial that this sizable community, one which undertakes essential care work in our households, is sufficiently supported.

Stephanie Chok
Case Manager
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics


Stephanie Chok