International Domestic Worker's Day Statement 2018

June 14, 2018

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Singapore — On International Domestic Workers’ Day, we call for better recognition of the rights and contributions of migrant domestic workers (MDWs) who perform vital care work in one-in-five households in Singapore.

Inclusion under Employment Act (EA)

We reiterate our call for MDWs to be included under the EA. Exclusion from the EA has made MDWs vulnerable to gross exploitation and abuse. Their exclusion from the EA means there is no legal limit on the number of hours they can be made to work. They are also not entitled to overtime pay. As it is mandatory for an MDW to live with their employer, MDWs are often on call 24/7, and work excessive hours that they are not financially compensated for. Overwork was the most common complaint amongst MDWs at HOME, with 55% of the 872 MDWs who came to HOME between April 2017 and March 2018 complaining of overwork.

Their exclusion from the EA also means MDWs are denied recourse to the Employment Claims Tribunal, a low-cost means to resolve employment disputes. Around 40% of 872 MDWs who sought help from HOME complained of salary disputes, including unpaid and delayed wages, underpayment, and unauthorised salary deductions. We thus urge the Singapore government to extend the EA to cover MDWs: in the short-term, we urge the government to extend clauses related to paid public holidays, paid sick leave, paid annual leave, and notice periods, with a view to full inclusion in the longer-term.

Tightening up Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA)

We also call for statutory protections under the EFMA to be more precisely defined. As MDWs are excluded from the EA, their statutory protections are mainly laid out in the EFMA, but these are too vaguely worded to offer reliable protection. Apart from overwork, inadequate food (33%) and poor accommodation (18%) were also common complaints. While the EFMA requires employers to provide MDWs with ‘adequate’ rest, ‘adequate’ food, and ‘acceptable’ accommodation, there are no hard limits for what is deemed ‘adequate’ or ‘acceptable’. Determination of inadequacy or unacceptability is thus left to the discretion of individual MOM officers, resulting in lack of clarity, and sometimes, inconsistency across different cases.

Increasing ability of MDWs to leave unfavourable employment

MDWs are often compelled to endure unfavourable working and living conditions due to poor job mobility. We call for better regulation of recruitment practices to prevent excessive recruitment fees and debt bondage-like situations, which limit MDWs’ ability to leave exploitative working conditions. While the Employment Agencies Act (EAA) limits agency fees to one month of salary per contract year, capped at two months of fixed salary, domestic workers may pay up to six to eight months of their monthly wages to recruiters in Singapore. During this loan repayment period, MDWs are vulnerable due to being under a debt bondage-like situation, which compels them to endure bad treatment by employers or agents.

Secondly, we call for MDWs to be allowed to change employers freely. Currently, MDWs must attain permission from their current employer to be allowed a change of employer. This severely constrains their ability to leave harsh and hostile employment conditions without penalty. Threats to repatriate the MDW can also be used by employers as a tool of coercion, compelling them to endure adverse conditions, agree to unfavorable terms, or perform hazardous work they would not otherwise take on. We urge the Singapore government to take measures to ensure MDWs can freely leave unacceptable work environments.

In the spirit of International Domestic Workers’ Day, and the essential work they perform, we call upon the Singapore government to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers’ Convention (C189), and for Singaporeans to create a society where the rights of all, including those of the MDWs, are upheld, promoted, and celebrated.

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Stephanie Chok