This letter by TWC2 immediate past president John Gee was published in the Straits Times on 14 July 2014:
Get to the bottom of unfair maid placement fees
The imposition of considerable placement costs on domestic workers by many employment agencies has, regrettably, been a common practice since 1998 (“Any breach of maids’ fee guidelines?” by Mr Bennie Cheok; last Wednesday).
Before then, agents usually expected employers to pay the cost of hiring a domestic worker. One result of this was that costs were kept low.
However, following the Asian financial crisis, agencies began to publicise the “$1 maid” and the “$88 maid”.
This meant transferring the cost of placement, including agency fees, from prospective employers to the workers themselves.
Since the workers cannot afford to pay up in advance, these employers fork out the placement costs initially and then recoup these from monthly salary deductions.
This has resulted in maid agencies in the countries of origin and here putting up charges far beyond their 1998 levels, since they face reduced employer resistance to higher prices, as it is the workers who are ultimately affected.
In turn, the anxiety of many Singapore agencies over their ability to recover costs and fees from employers has turned many of them into firm advocates of giving no days off to domestic workers, at least during the first six to eight months of employment, in case the workers try to leave their employers and the employers cancel outstanding payments to the agencies.
Singapore caps the fee that agencies here can charge to one month’s salary for each year of employment up to a maximum of two years, but the Ministry of Manpower says that it cannot control the fees and costs passed on from agencies in the workers’ home countries.
In the case of the Philippines, the government bans agencies from charging any fees to domestic workers for their placement, so shouldn’t they face a maximum of only two months’ salary deductions here?
Instead, many maids continue to face six months and more of salary deductions, and the situation is worse for workers from Indonesia and Myanmar.
It is time for increased cooperation between these countries and Singapore to get to the bottom of the matter. They need to find out who is charging how much as fees and for placement services in each country, and to act decisively to reduce exorbitant charges – to which employers justifiably object and which are unfair to impose on maids.