In a move with little warning, the government of Myanmar (Burma) has imposed a five-month ban on its citizens coming to Singapore for domestic work. This was reported in the Straits Times (13 September 2014). The ban was reportedly due to concerns over ill-treatment and abuse, the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) said. An official from Myanmar’s Labour Ministry confirmed the suspension, the newspaper added.

On the Singapore side, the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore (AEAS) is in discussion with its Myanmar counterpart over a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU), but several issues are said to remain unresolved. The “temporary suspension” is expected to be lifted when the MOU is signed.

Earlier this year, Myanmar media reported that the government wants its women working as maids in Singapore to be paid a minimum monthly wage of $450, be given at least one day off a month, and not to have to pay a recruitment fee that exceeds four months of their salary.

The MOU is intended to turn these proposals into regulations.

— Straits Times, 13 Sept 2014, Myanmar imposes temporary ban on maids to Singapore

Channel NewsAsia reported:

Myanmar – which only last year passed a law allowing its nationals to work as domestic helpers overseas – will impose the ban until an agreement is reached with Singapore over issues including worker rights and salary.

“We have been informed of cases of abuse and ill-treatment of Myanmar maids in Singapore… That’s why we want proper protection for workers,” Soe Myint Aung, a vice-chairman of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation, told AFP. “The labour ministry has temporarily suspended permits for women until the federation signs a Memorandum of Understanding with (its counterpart in) Singapore.”

— Channel NewsAsia, 13 Sept 2014, Myanmar suspends work permits for maids heading to Singapore

The Straits Times had reported in April 2013 that a rising number of Myanmar maids were “running away” from their Singapore employers. One reason was that they found it unbearable to work for months without receiving any pay. That report said that the reason for unhappiness is that they arrive with large debts to repay, and until those are cleared some receive little more than $10 or $20 a month. It takes as long as eight months to clear the debt.

The 13 Sept 2014 story also mentioned that there are an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Myanmar women working as maids in Singapore.