How many foreign domestic workers are there in Singapore?

There were 201,000 female domestic workers in Singapore on Work Permits (end of 2010), as reported by the Ministry of Manpower. That made it about one for every five households in the country. In 2002, there were 140,000.

Where do they come from?

The majority, by far, are from Indonesia and the Philippines; smaller numbers come from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Thailand,  and Bangladesh. We do not have definite figures, but there seems to have been quite an increase in the number of Myanmar workers since 2006.

Why do women from these countries seek employment as domestic workers in Singapore?

Most are trying to support their families. Their earnings go towards paying for the education of children, brothers and sisters, buying land, extending a family home or simply enabling a family to pay its bills. A few manage to save up money towards starting a small business when they return home.

They are able to earn more money in Singapore than in their own countries, thanks to its level of economic development, but this should not be seen as a reason to pay them little. Their salaries should be compared to what locals earn from manual work and seen in the light of what Singapore employers are able to go out and earn thanks to having a worker at home to take care of dependents and housework.

Why ‘foreign domestic workers’? Why don’t you just say ‘maids’?

For historical and cultural reasons, ‘maid’ brings to mind a person who does work of a very low status. Ideas on such things change over time, and descriptive words reflect this: the term ‘domestic servants’, for example, is no longer used, but was used in the 1968 Employment Act.

The word ‘maid’ is not considered respectful by a lot of domestic workers. ‘Domestic helper’ and ‘domestic worker’ are among the descriptions that are preferable. TWC2 usually uses the term ‘domestic worker’: we think that it recognises a worker’s status as that of a person whose job happens to be in the home, but who should receive the kind of consideration and respect others who work for a living deserve.

See also: Fact sheet: Foreign domestic workers in Singapore (complaints and abuses)

See also: Where we stand on fair treatment of foreign domestic workers