On the subject of foreign domestic workers, a letter from TWC2 was published in the Straits Times forum on Friday 20 September 2019:

Match KPIs for maids with rights, protections

Letter from TWC2 published in the Straits Times Forum, 20 September 2019

We thank Mr Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan for his views (Maids should have KPIs too, Sept 17).

Everyone knows that foreign domestic workers are treated differently, in many ways: For one thing, no local worker can be completely isolated in a place of employment in the way many domestic workers still are.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) would be very much in favour of domestic workers having obligations and entitlements that are comparable with those of other workers.

Any requirement that they should have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to fulfil should be matched by an assertion of rights and protections that are enjoyed by other workers, including a cap on working hours, weekly days off, freedom of communication, an ability to leave an employers’ premises during time off, and a real possibility of leaving an employer whom they feel does not treat them properly – rights that, as Mr Loh states, “even the most lowly” of local workers have.

Perhaps those could be viewed as KPIs for employers and for Singapore as a society.

TWC2 believes that it is wrong for recruiters and unscrupulous agents to encourage would-be domestic workers to misrepresent their experience and training. Honesty is the best policy, but it would be encouraged by policies and practices that empower domestic workers to speak up.

This would apply in the following examples: If an agent wants to place a worker with a family whose requirements are such that the worker does not feel able to meet them, or when she feels dissatisfied with how she is treated or simply does not understand what an employer has asked her to do.

Instead, fear of being scolded or physically abused, fear of her services being terminated and being sent home, and fear of returning home destitute as a result of recruitment fees, encourage deceptive behaviour as a defence mechanism.

TWC2 hopes that domestic work in Singapore will come to be more highly valued, whether performed by migrant workers or locals, and that foreign domestic workers will indeed be treated according to the standards that we would wish for ourselves if our positions were exchanged.

Deborah Desloge Fordyce
Transient Workers Count Too

Our letter was in response to this one below:

Maids should have KPIs too

Letter published in the Straits Times Forum, 17 September 2019

Few would disagree with Ms Jaya Anil Kumar, a case manager for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, who said that live-in helpers are inherently vulnerable to exploitation and abuse (When family members abuse a maid together, Sept 9).

But are employers not vulnerable too (Maid abuse? What about the reverse? Sept 16)?

Having, out of necessity, to admit a stranger – not knowing her mental state, and cultural beliefs and practices – into one’s home, affecting one’s privacy and changing the home’s dynamics and equilibrium, is daunting.

We must avoid demonising and treating employers as potential villains. What is needed is managing the expectations of both parties – the employers and the foreign domestic workers (FDWs).

An accurate and truthful biodata of an FDW is a good starting point. A lot of tension and frustration arise when an FDW cannot perform tasks that she claims she can in her biodata.

It does not help when FDWs are encouraged to dress up their profiles and capabilities by lying.Lying is a bad start, but FDWs tend to do this throughout their entire employment journey, believing that it ensures survival.

Every job, even the most lowly, has a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). In working life, a worker who falls short of his KPIs is subjected to reprimand, counselling, forgone bonus, promotion freeze, and even dismissal.

FDWs cannot be treated differently. If they underperform, lie, or have a negative work attitude, they must be prepared for counselling and scolding. This should be emphasised during the settling-in programme.

Ultimately, we want a fruitful, understanding and happy employer-FDW relationship. This is achievable only through having a fair and equitable framework set up by all stakeholders – employers, FDWs, the Ministry of Manpower, host country governments, migrant workers’ rights groups, and recruitment and employment agencies.

The employer-FDW framework is a work in progress. A lot more needs to be done to strengthen it.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

The above letter was in response to a Straits Times article of 9 September 2019 titled “When family members abuse a maid together”. The article is behind a paywall. The closing part of the article has a quote from Jaya Anil Kumar to which Lawrence Loh above was responding.

Despite changes this year to stiffen punishment for those convicted of maid abuse, activists have called for better safeguards.

Ms Jaya Anil Kumar, a case manager for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said the authorities or help groups should conduct consistent checks on maids during their employment.

These checks, currently done by the Centre for Domestic Employees for the Ministry of Manpower on first-time maids, should be made available to all and done in the absence of employers, she said.

“We must recognise that live-in helpers are inherently vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” she said.

The same 9 September article also quoted TWC2 President Debbie Fordyce:

There are also ancillary factors that make a situation ripe for abuse.

Experts and help groups say maids are often told by agents to say “yes” to everything their future employers ask of them, regardless of what they feel or understand.

Ms Debbie Fordyce, an executive committee member of Transient Workers Count Too, said: “What you get then is a situation where they are taught to say ‘yes, madam’ to anything, even if they don’t understand what it is the employers want – that’s just very bad advice.”