Foreign domestic workers in Singapore now can turn to a new Internet-based service for cutting middlemen costs when seeking switches to fresh employers here.
DWJobs.org, a maids’ job portal launched a few weeks ago, can also help employers avoid paying hundreds of dollars in transfer fees to maid agencies by directly matching job offers with applications free of charge.
Ian Bland, a 43-year-old permanent resident from the U.K. who created the website, said DWJobs aims to create for domestic helpers “a more equitable job marketplace as it exists for all other types of employment.”
As the Ministry of Manpower runs an “efficient” online system for processing domestic worker-related paperwork, the intermediary role played by maid agencies is becoming “increasingly unnecessary as the number of (maids) with internet access is on the rise,” said Bland, a consultant with a non-profit organization here.
“Like many other industries this (job) matching process can be done directly especially for this segment of the (maid) population with Internet access,” he said.
Employers typically pay between S$400 to S$600 in fees to maid agencies, which handle a wide range of administrative tasks like securing work permits and insurance coverage, paying security bonds, and arranging for the workers’ travel, immigration clearance and medical screening.
Changes this year to hiring policies for Indonesian maids mean that Singapore employers now pay between S$1,200 to S$1,600 in maid-agency fees, although this also frees employers from the obligation to lend their maids about S$3,000 to pay “placement fees” – covering costs of the maid’s health screening, training, and documentation processing.
“As a percentage of wages these domestic workers pay a higher placement fee than any other occupation despite being the lowest-paid segment of the work force,” Bland said.
DWJobs’ service can help eliminate transfer fees, but employers must still foot other hiring costs like insurance, bond and processing fees to the manpower ministry.
Some social workers have lauded Bland’s efforts, but they also note that its services will only benefit a select group of maids and employers.
Only those who are literate in English and possess basic Internet skills would be able to make use of the site. Furthermore, many prospective maids coming directly from their home countries won’t be able to make use of such job portals as their respective governments require them to engage agents or go through pre-departure training with accredited agencies.
According to Bland, DWJobs.org targets maids who have been in Singapore for two years or more and are familiar with local working conditions and contract requirements.
Despite their drawbacks, portals like DWJobs.org are welcome tools that can help some maids and their employers to save money, said TWC2 Vice-President Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman.
But such websites could also add certain features that would complement its existing services, she said.
DWJobs.org currently provides a forum for discussions of maid-employment issues faced by employers and workers alike, as well as some basic skills training resources for maids. Bland plans to add more resources on work regulations and transfer processes, including samples of alternative contracts.
To bolster its offerings, Dr Noorashikin suggested that DWJobs.org could add more in-depth information on maid regulatory issues in Singapore and the workers’ home countries. This includes bureaucratic requirements of their origin-country governments, such as Indonesia’s new requirement for its citizens to register for an Overseas Worker’s Permit before they are allowed to seek work abroad.
Other helpful material would include sample copies of MOM-endorsed employment contracts and information on best practices to promote fairer treatment of domestic workers, Dr Noorashikin said.
A mechanism to check on the veracity of job adverts from employers would also help prevent unscrupulous parties from exploiting DWJobs.org to feed human trafficking rackets.
“We wouldn’t want traffickers to lure workers through the website and there should be some guarantee of this,” Dr Noorashikin said. “Perhaps a feedback mechanism should be included so that the administrator will be aware of such personalities when workers encounter them.”
Bland, however, doesn’t believe that traffickers pose a major risk to the website as it deals only with maid transfers. The greater concern is with “agents trolling the site to poach (maids) and then charge transfer fees but most of the domestic workers are smart to this,” he said.