Up till then, it was a quiet morning at TWC2’s office. Up till when the phone rang. On the other side was a woman whose voice told of deep concern. Mrs K (not her real name) told TWC2 staff member Mansura that there was a domestic worker in an apartment a few doors away from her own whom she believed had been physically abused. You must send help. You must get her out of there, she said.
Apparently, that domestic worker (let’s call her Kartini) had approached Mrs K’s own helper (let’s call her Litok) to buy some medicine. Litok noticed that Kartini had bruises on her and told Mrs K about it. The employer then asked around her friends and contacts and found TWC2’s number.
Indeed, such a report requires action, except that as a private charity, TWC2 cannot go barging into people’s homes. The proper thing to do, which was what Mansura did, was to inform relevant officials at the Ministry of Manpower of the case. The ministry followed up with quite prompt action, sending officers to the address where Kartini was.
What TWC2 later learnt was that the officials managed to speak to Kartini at the doorway, but she did not explicitly complain of abuse. Instead she told the officers that she had only two months left on her contract and she just wanted to serve it out and go home. The officers then left.
Mrs K was disappointed to hear that Kartini had not been removed from there. According to Mansura, there was a note of frustration in her voice during the follow-up phone call. However, unless there is a formal complainant, even ministry officials cannot exceed their authority and take a worker out of the residence against her will.
No doubt it is entirely possible that Kartini might have been abused, but at the same time, she might have judged it the lesser of two evils to put up with it for two more months. The fact is, the alternatives aren’t all that attractive either. She might be in need of the two more months of salary or she might have been aware that lodging a complaint against an employer would entail being made to stay on in Singapore as prosecution witness (for a long period till the trial, if any) with no job and no money in the interim.
It does make one wonder how many other domestic workers make similar calculations, thus letting abusive employers off the hook.
Another day, another story. This time the report came from a security guard at a condominium. One of the apartments there, she tells Mansura, has a domestic worker who is getting thinner by the day. Having spoken to her in the past, the guard has learnt that she is only allowed one meal a day. She is so hungry at times that when the employers are out, she has to sneak out to buy a little food from the convenience store located within the condominium with what little money she has.
Lately, the guard learnt that the domestic worker had been told not to communicate with outsiders. A similar message was passed down to the guards not to speak to her either. Had she been caught sneaking out and doing so? Things were possibly taking a turn for the worse, but for the guard to reveal the apartment unit number might put her own job in jeopardy. What to do?
Mansura gave the guard TWC2’s card and an information sheet, which the guard managed to slip to the domestic worker. It’s been over a week. The guard hasn’t seen her come out and TWC2 has received no call. But if she does call, will we have someone at the ready who can speak Hindi? Language is one of the difficulties faced by a charity like TWC2 trying to help migrants coming from all over the world.
We continue to wait. . . .