The above was the headline for a feature story carried in the Sunday Times, 4 December 2011, about romantic relationships between foreign workers in Singapore. The newspaper’s reporters trawled Lucky Plaza and Little India over two Sundays and reported that “foreign men and women holding hands were a common sight.”
Taking up a full page, the story had quotes from various parties. Mr Emil Dewantara, third secretary of consular affairs at the Indonesian Embassy, told the newspaper that the embassy “sees about 20 to 30 cases a year of employers complaining about their maids’ poor work performance after getting boyfriends.”
Other employment agency bosses said employers would worry about domestic workers bringing their boyfriends into the home when the employer was out at work. Ms Sumen Rai, owner of Status Employment, said if that happened, the worker would have “crossed the line”. She would be sent back to her home country; transfer would not be an option.
Other maid employment agencies reported a rising number of cases involving romantic relationships; however, the newspaper did not mention that the total number of foreign domestic workers have also risen over the last few years.
But some employment agencies said more employers are returning their maids after finding out about their boyfriends.
‘In the last two years, there were about four or five cases per year, which is double what it used to be,’ said Ms Shirley Ng, owner of Orange Employment.
She noted that the issue of maids having boyfriends has grown in the last two years because more of them have regular days off now.
— Sunday Times, Dec 4, 2011: Finding love in a foreign land, by Lin Wenjian
Anticipating that this issue would be used as an argument against giving domestic workers a weekly day off, Jolovan Wham, Executive Director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, told the Sunday Times: “If there is concern about pregnancies, then sex education is the answer. I doubt parents of teenage children ban them from socialising because they are afraid their kids will get pregnant.”
The feature story included two sidebars. The first profiled Aisa, an Indonesian domestic worker with a Bangladeshi boyfriend; the second focussed on two Filipina workers who said they were not interested in such relationships while in Singapore.