In Singapore, Domestic Workers Treated As Goods

domestic workers

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In Singapore, the promos apply to everything, even to human beings. The sentence looks like a bad joke, but it is all the more serious for Al Jazeera.

This summer, a report by the Qatari channel has created scandal in the island by denouncing the methods of “selling” employment agencies of domestic workers, young women mostly coming from poor Asian countries like the Philippines, Myanmar or Indonesia.

Since then, the question of the living conditions and recruitment of these young women, called “maids” or “helpers”, has come to the fore on the island, and more generally in Asia (notably in Hong Kong where Cases of abused domestic workers have recently made headlines).

Presented as merchandise

The article, published in June, investigated household agencies located in some shopping centers, pointing to “shoplifter and available for purchase” candidates.Following this article, the Ministry of Employment of Singapore (MOM) reaffirmed that the “ministry required agencies to be accountable and to have respectful practices with respect to their clients – both employers and “Foreign domestic workers”.

A few days later he recalled that advertisements that compared “helpers” with goods that could be exposed and replaced when they were deemed unsatisfactory “were unacceptable and then removed the most disturbing panels.

Shoplifting Candidates

These steps have not been enough to stem the polemic that has won the Philippines, which in reaction have forbidden several agencies of Singapore “maids” on their territory.

On 13 September, Myanmar announced that it would suspend all migration of its servants to the island due to ill-treatment of some of its nationals.

Domestic workers (“foreign domestic workers”) are an institution in the city of the lion – not less than 214,000 servants for an island of 5.4 million – but also one of the most surprising subjects And controversy here.

These young women take care of the household, the kitchen, keep the children and the elderly in affluent or middle-class Singaporean families (the use of a helper is not, however, the prerogative of local families since “Expatriate” families also have them).

A pregnancy test every six months

The Singaporean government imposes drastic conditions on them to obtain a visa: they must be between 23 and 50 years of age, have at least eight years of schooling and have successfully passed a series of Including a pregnancy test that they must repeat every six months. If they are positive, they are returned to their country of origin.

To these constraints is added the financial pressure of the recruitment agencies, which play the role of intermediaries between them and their future employer. To get them to the island and train them, these agencies charge them a fee of several thousand dollars.

The pressure has increased in recent months as the agencies are engaged in a price war to attract customers and reduce fees charged to the employer but catch up on the sums they require from domestic workers. Some still repay their debt after one year and have not received the first penny of their salary.

In exchange for their services, their employers pay them from $ 500 to $ 600 a month, to feed them, to house them in a decent way and to provide them with health insurance.

Many cases of ill-treatment

Since 1 January 2013, they are also entitled to one day of rest per week, or to financial compensation if their employer requests their presence. Previously, it was a day off per month.

A pub for an agency

A pub for a “maids” agency –

In 2012, when this reform was decided, it provoked an outcry , part of the Singaporeans wondering how they would manage on the day off from their servants. Others, on the contrary, supported the measure.

In practice, for the time being, it has little effect: today, only 37% of domestic workers really take their day off, as the measure is currently only compulsory for those who have started a new contract in 2013 or later.

Their relationship with their employer varies from one situation to another. The press frequently reports cases of ill-treatment (a room that is actually a bomb shelter , deprivation of mobile phone), excessive work, sexual harassment or even worse.

Followed by private detectives

The skein of relations is all the more complex because it involves interactions between individuals with different cultural references, and the Singaporean State makes employers responsible for their actions. If a “maid” becomes pregnant, prostitutes or commits offenses, her “family” is also responsible.

This complexity is also found in the management of the famous day off: some Singaporean employers, obviously apprehending that their servants take advantage of it to prostitute themselves (phenomenon that is a reality) or have a boyfriend, have decided to follow them by detectives private. An agency, quoted in an article of the site Asia News, said that it realized 20% of its turnover in the spinning of “maids”.

Whereas, on the other hand, other employers offer their “maids” cooking, accounting or logistics classes on their day off in order to improve their baggage, either here or in their country of origin.

In any case, whatever their relationship, they make it so much a part of life here that a good part of the local films, as in the cult film of Singapore “Ah boys to men”, have characters of servants.

The most famous Singaporean film in France, “Ilo Ilo”, even revolves around the figure of a Filipino “maid” and its interactions with a Singaporean family. Complex relations, you are told.

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