The Sunday edition of the Straits Times, 29 October 2017, featured beauty contests that attract domestic workers on their days off. It said that there are such pageants almost every week, run by about 20 private organisers. Each contest may have about 40 participants.

But taking part in the contest came at a price.

Jessica, 33, a Filipino, had to pay $500 – about a month’s salary – to take part in the pageant, which she did not win.

“I was curious,” said the lanky woman with long, black tresses. “When I was asked to join, I was excited because many girls get to wear nice clothes.”

— Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2017, Sunday beauty queens

The newspaper reported that the top prize can be as much as $2,000, which is several times a typical worker’s monthly salary. That is, if they win. However, just to participate, they have to pay considerable sums of money, which is ostensibly for registration, rental of costumes, as well as “compulsory” grooming and deportment lessons that they must attend.

The newspaper said that some pageants also make domestic workers sell raffle tickets so that the event would be packed with supporters.

These contests have come under some fire, with some maids complaining to non-governmental organisations like Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) about the costs.

TWC2 volunteer Shelley Thio said maids are sometimes told only after the pageants that they must pay for their costumes. One even had to pay for her crown.

She said some organisers have threatened maids who cannot pay up, saying they would inform their employers and get their work permits cancelled.

Ms Thio has confronted these organisers. “The ladies I helped were harassed, which made them frightened. There is a huge fear that they would be sent home.”

— Sunday Times, 29 Oct 2017, Sunday beauty queens.

Moreover, there are allegations, the feature story said, that contestants can shell out money to ensure that they get minor awards, such as “Miss Flawless”,  “Miss Killer Smile” and “Miss Exotic”.

In Singapore, there are many ingenious ways to separate migrant workers from their hard-earned money.