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     FrontPage Edition: Tue 6 Dec 2005

Manpower Ministry responds to HRW's report on maids in Singapore




Please refer to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published on 6 Dec 05, titled ¡°Maid to Order: Ending Abuses against Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore¡±.
The report grossly exaggerates the abuse and lack of rights of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore.
Foreign domestic workers receive full protection under Singapore¡¯s laws, including the Employment of Foreign Workers Act. All employers must provide adequate rest and meals and ensure work safety, proper housing and prompt salary payment.
Individual FDWs enter into contracts with their employers which specify the terms of employment. They have the same rights as all employees to accept or reject work conditions imposed, including the number of rest days.
On their own accord, FDWs choose to work in Singapore because of better conditions here compared to their home and other countries.
We do not tolerate any abuse or exploitation of FDWs. Employers who breach these work permit conditions can be punished with a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term of up to 6 months.
In the first 3 quarters of 2005, 4 FDW employers were prosecuted by MOM for failing to pay their salaries on time, of which 3 were jailed in default of the fine.
In 1988, Singapore enhanced its Penal Code to increase by one-and-a-half times the penalties for acts of abuse against FDW by their employers or household members. This markedly decreased abuses against FDWs which has fallen from 157 in 1997 to 59 cases last year.
Over the last 4 years, 26 employers were also jailed for abusing their FDWs. All convicted employers and their spouses are permanently barred from employing FDWs.
The Ministry of Manpower has stepped up its efforts to educate FDWs of their rights and protection under our laws through mandatory safety and well-being orientation courses.
They are also given a list of telephone numbers to contact in case of emergency or when their well being is threatened. These are published in the native languages of the foreign worker.
In addition, all first-time employers of FDWs, as well as those who change FDWs frequently, are required to attend a compulsory orientation programme. The programme emphasizes the obligations and responsibilities of the employers towards their FDWs.
More recently, the minimum age of new FDWs was increased in Jan 05 from 18 to 23 years. FDWs must also have completed at least 8 years of formal education. These measures are aimed at ensuring that the FDWs in Singapore have sufficient level of maturity to understand their rights and protection provided under Singapore law.
The Ministry also regulates employment agencies (EAs) closely to ensure that they do not exploit FDWs. EAs that flout the EA Act can be punished with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or 2 years¡¯ jail if convicted and/or have their licenses revoked.
The HRW report has also suggested that MOM abolish the $5,000 security bond required of all FDW employers. This is unwise. The security bond serves to ensure that employers do not abandon their FDWs instead of arranging for orderly repatriation. This measure has proven its usefulness over the years as the vast majority of FDWs were properly repatriated at the end of their service contracts with very few being left to fend for themselves.
Contrary to HRW¡¯s report, the majority of FDWs enjoy meaningful and safe employment in Singapore. An independent poll by SIngapore Press Holdings in Dec 2003, revealed that over 80% of FDWs were happy to work in Singapore.
The 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report released by the US Department of State in Jun 05 also lauded Singapore¡¯s recent efforts to curb FDW abuses, and has featured them under the ¡°International Best Practices¡± section of the report.

Source: Media Release 6 Dec 2005

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