Government legislation has helped improve foreign domestic workers’ access to compensation in lieu of a day off, but 59% of foreign domestic workers in Singapore still do not get a weekly day off.
To mark International Domestic Workers’ Day (16 June 2015), Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) publishes a new report: ‘The Right to Rest: The effectiveness of the ‘day off’ legislation for foreign domestic workers’. The report evaluates the impact of the mandatory weekly ‘day off’ policy for foreign domestic workers in Singapore.
The report surveyed 195 foreign domestic workers about their access to rest days and adequate compensation.
Of the domestic workers surveyed within the period of 2013-2014, 41% said they had four days off per month, 24% of domestic workers received two days off per month, 23% had only one day off per month and 10% had no days off at all.
If our sample is representative, it means that approximately 22,000 domestic workers in Singapore do not have a day off at all.
TWC2 makes the following recommendations to the government:
1. Increase public education to ensure compliance with existing legislation
40% of domestic workers who reported not having a weekly day off also reported not receiving compensation in lieu. We encourage the Government to raise awareness amongst the public, domestic workers, agents, and employers about existing laws. Such education could change social norms, which is one of the most effective ways to ensure compliance with the law.
2. Adequate enforcement of the ‘day off’ legislation
The fact that 40% of domestic workers who reported not getting a weekly day off also reported not receiving compensation in lieu suggests there is a gap between policy and practice. More widespread use of random checks, and publicity of cases where violations are found could close this gap.
3. Extending Employment Act rest day provisions
Exclusion of domestic workers from the Employment Act means that they miss out on many basic protections that other workers receive, including the right to a 24-hour rest period, and compensation of two days’ salary if their employer requests they give up a day off.
4. 24-hour rest day
Many domestic workers we interviewed said that they did not get a full 24-hour rest period. They start their day off only after they have completed morning chores, and return before a ‘curfew’ so that they can cook dinner.
All other workers in Singapore are entitled to a full 24-hour rest period each week. Domestic workers in Hong Kong, a comparable jurisdiction, receive a full 24-hour period for their rest day.
TWC2 advocates that to ensure that a full rest period is observed, workers should have the right to a 24 hour rest period, which should be preceded or followed by an eight hour period for sleep (32 hours in total)
5. Adequate compensation for working on a day off
The average compensation for workers in our survey for missing a day off was $17.50 per day. This is the equivalent to just less than a day’s pay in most cases. If domestic workers were covered by the Employment Act and they were working on their day off at the request of their employers, they would receive double their daily wage, or close to $40/day.
6. Minimum compulsory leave
The workers with the worst leave arrangements in our surveys were also those with the lowest pay, and with the least experience. Qualitative interviews found that these workers did not feel that they could negotiate adequate leave conditions. TWC2 believes that domestic workers should only be able to trade away a maximum of two rest days per month. Workers who do not get any days off are prone to social isolation and are cut off from friends. They are also particularly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.