Building Community Support for Domestic Workers from Myanmar

4 January 2019

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On 30 December 2018, approximately 50 people from the Myanmar community in Singapore attended a consultation organised by HOME to discuss issues affecting the Myanmar domestic worker community. Attendees included Myanmar domestic workers, Myanmar community leaders and HOME’s staff and volunteers. The event was organised in response to recent deaths of Myanmar domestic workers falling off high-rise buildings in Singapore. The circumstances of these deaths suggest that suicide was a possible cause. In the last two years, at least five such deaths have been recorded.

During the consultation, HOME shared that domestic workers were one of the least protected workers in Singapore. They are excluded from primary labour laws and are usually isolated from the rest of the community. Language barriers make it difficult for their concerns to be heard by employers and agencies. HOME shared the findings of a study it conducted in 2015, in which 670 domestic workers were surveyed, out of which 107 were from Myanmar. Of those surveyed, only 54% had a weekly day off. Up to 30% faced severe restrictions on the usage of their mobile phones. Additionally, 12% of those from Myanmar faced significant difficulty communicating with their employers. 

HOME’s executive director, Ms Sheena Kanwar, shared various strategies to cope with the pressures of work and life in Singapore, including meditating, exercise and speaking to other domestic workers who share their problems and concerns.

Later, the participants were divided into groups to talk about their experiences. Some of the problems they reported were unpaid salary, delayed payment of salary, lack of privacy, poor living conditions, and the psychological stress as a result of living together with their employers. Restricted access to mobile phones and agencies which were not receptive to their problems were some of the other complaints. A few participants shared that it was not surprising that some domestic workers contemplate suicide as live-in domestic work can be stressful. Moreover, domestic work can be isolating if workers were not given days off and are not able to use their mobile phones. The ban by the Myanmar government prohibiting their citizens from working as domestic workers abroad was also not effective in preventing abuse and exploitation in destination countries such as Singapore.

Finally, participants were urged to look out for those who were isolated and had little contact with their friends and family. The community encouraged HOME to organise more outreach activities so that more domestic workers were aware of our services.

     

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Stephanie Chok