Kusmayati says her Singaporean employer asked her time and again to go to the airport to pick up new domestic workers arriving from abroad. The Indonesian domestic worker, who goes by the name ‘Yati’ says she wasn’t in a position to say ‘no’ to her boss. “I didn’t have a choice because it was my employer. If I didn’t want to go – what could I do?”
She says running errands at her boss’s request ultimately cost her any future job in Singapore.
Yati, 39, who spoke to a TWC2 volunteer over coffee at a fast food restaurant near Farrer Park, alleges that her boss was running a domestic worker placement agency out of her home in Pasir Ris. According to her, she was repeatedly asked to go to the airport to meet newly arrived domestic workers and take them to a doctor for their medical check-ups. Singapore law stipulates that a domestic worker can only cook, clean and care for the family who employs her. Running errands for a family business violates the code. In November 2011, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) caught up with Yati and her employer.
MOM sent Yati a letter asking her to testify as to what went on at the employer’s home. Yati dutifully reported to MOM, bringing only her handbag with her. Little did she know that she would not be returning to the house, leaving behind all of her clothes, photos and keepsakes.
After the interview with MOM, Yati was whisked away to the Keramat Road dormitory in an industrial area of Admiralty where she was required to stay with other domestic workers until the investigation into her employer’s business was resolved. The accommodations were fine, Yati says, even though she slept in one long hospital-like room with seventy five beds in it.
The problem was that for the year and a half that Yati was in the dorm, she wasn’t allowed to work.
Making matters worse, a few days after her arrival at Keramat in November 2011, her husband, an Indonesian seaman, fell 5 metres from the top of a ship he was working on. He broke both hands and couldn’t work either. This meant that for the past year and a half, the family has had virtually no income, and their teenage daughter in Indonesia hasn’t been able to finish high school because she can’t pay the school fees.
In February, Yati was released from Keramat, but instead of going back to work, which she desperately wanted – and needed- to do, the MOM black-listed her from ever working in Singapore again. The decision was devastating.
“It’s not fair to me,” she said through tears. “They punished me for one year and four months already. If it had been just one year, okay. But MOM said forever, and that’s not okay with me.”
When asked why she couldn’t go elsewhere for work, like Hong Kong or Taiwan, she said she needed to take care of her husband who is still in Singapore, recovering from his fall. He doesn’t speak English and he needs her help navigating doctor appointments and working through physical therapy.
Yati says she didn’t know she was breaking the law when she ran errands for her former boss. “I’m a good worker. I never make trouble. I just like to be nice to them. I follow MOM rules.”
She just wants to get back to work. “They already punished me for one year and four months. This one not my fault.”