UN Women's Rights Committee Gives Recommendations to Singapore

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women released its comments and recommendations to the Singapore government in a report which was published yesterday. The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was ratified by Singapore in 1995. The government is obliged to consider the committee’s comments and recommendations for its domestic policies and legislation to ensure substantive equality for women.

Domestic workers
In its report, the Committee expressed concerns about ongoing allegations that many women migrant domestic workers continue to be exploited and abused by their employers, including non-payment of salary, deprivation of food, lack of adequate rest, confiscation of personal items such as mobile phones and passports, restrictions on the right to freedom of movement, refusal to pay medical expenses, as well as sexual, physical, verbal and psychological abuse. These are issues which were highlighted in our joint report with Transient Workers Count Too. The committee was also concerned that no measures have been taken to repeal the law requiring migrant workers to undergo mandatory and regular testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, and to be deported if tested positive.

HOME has also highlighted in its report that many migrant workers in Singapore cannot switch employers freely and are vulnerable to forced labour and abuse because they fear losing their jobs and being sent home to their countries in debt. We also emphasized the importance of ensuring their basic labour rights are legislated. The committee recommended the following measures to tackle these problems:

(a) Ensure that women migrant domestic workers are guaranteed the same level of protection and benefits as other workers, particularly with regard to public holidays, maximum weekly working hours, regular days of rest, including by extending the applicability of the Employment Act to domestic workers;

(b) Revise the criteria allowing women migrant workers to change employers, particularly those who have experienced exploitation and abuse, without the requirement to assist in investigations or to be prosecution witnesses;

(c) Repeal the law requiring work permit holders, including migrant domestic workers, to undergo mandatory testing for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and to be deported on grounds of pregnancy or diagnosis of HIV;

(d) Ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), and the ILO Domestic Workers Convention, 2011 (No. 189).

Human trafficking
Even though the Singapore government has demonstrated commitment to combat trafficking in persons, the Committee was still concerned that the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act lacked definitions of key terms related to trafficking, such as forced labour, deception and coercion, which hinders the effective identification of victims and perpetrators. The rights of victims are not enshrined in law which means the right to decent work opportunities, shelters providing adequate services to victims, and access to physical and psycho-social recovery services and facilities are not guaranteed. These were issues which HOME and our partners highlighted in our #stoptraffickingsg campaign in 2014.

The following recommendations were made by the Committee:
(a) Amend the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act to ensure its full compliance with the Palermo Protocol;

(b) Continue to provide capacity-building to the judiciary, law enforcement officers, border control officers, social workers and health workers with respect to the early identification and referral of victims of trafficking as well as gender-sensitive investigation methods;

(c) Ensure that victims of trafficking are provided with adequate protection and support, including by establishing separate shelters that are well-equipped with trained staff to address their specific needs and concerns;

(d) Ensure that traffickers and other actors involved in trafficking are effectively identified, prosecuted and adequately punished;

(e) Intensify international, regional and bilateral cooperation with countries of origin, transit and destination to prevent trafficking, including by exchanging information and harmonizing legal procedures to prosecute traffickers, with countries of origin, transit and destination, particularly countries in the region.

Commenting on the Committee’s report, Stephanie Chok, Case Manager of HOME said

“Many migrant workers, especially women domestic workers, labour under slavery-like conditions. Not only does their marginalised status leave them vulnerable to abuse, justice remains elusive. Protection is limited and multiple obstacles exist to hinder effective redress. The committee’s recommendations need to be taken seriously by the Singapore government if we truly appreciate their positive contributions to our country.”

Stephanie Chok