Published in the Straits Times Forum, 24 February 2020.

Maid agencies abusing their powers

Mr Ng Beng Choo makes a good point in his Forum letter (Agency charges same amount for new and transfer maids, Feb 20).

Indeed, why should anyone be charged by an agency as much to hire a transfer domestic worker as to hire one from abroad?

The cost of hiring locally does not include training, accommodation, transport and agency fees that would be incurred in hiring new workers in their countries of origin, and so should be much lower.

It is still common practice for employers to deduct the cost of the hire of a new domestic worker from her salary, and this also often happens with transfer workers.

When domestic workers face six to nine months of salary deductions, although Singapore caps what agencies here can charge them at two months maximum, it has been argued that the extra cost comes from country-of-origin charges.

Since those should not exist in the case of transfer workers, none of them should be facing salary deductions of more than two months. But many are.

This is unjust and shows that some agencies are misusing the power they have over domestic worker recruitment to deny employers, workers and the national economy the benefits that come from hiring transfer workers.

There is a similar trend in the employment of construction workers.

The Government has opened up the possibility of workers finding new employers while in Singapore, without having to go home and shoulder the burden of exorbitant recruitment costs.

But middlemen are interposing themselves in the recruitment process to make a handsome profit out of the employment of experienced migrant workers who are already in Singapore.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) thinks that these practices need to be reined in and that the direct hire of workers by employers should be facilitated, including through easy-to-use online portals.

Deborah Desloge Fordyce
Transient Workers Count Too

The above letter from TWC2 was in response to this earlier letter in the newspaper:

Published in the Straits Times Forum, 20 February 2020.

Agency charges same amount for new and transfer maids

I employed a transfer foreign domestic worker through a maid agency last month.

She had been sent back to the agency after working seven months with her former employer.

Still, I was charged the same agency fee as if I were employing a new maid who had yet to arrive in Singapore.

I asked for a reduction in the agency fee, as the maid’s previous employer would already have paid that amount, but my request was rejected. The reason given was that it is the “industry norm”.

I understand that the agent also imposes a $200 penalty on the maid for each transfer. And to replace a maid, the employer has to pay more administrative and documentation fees, even though the contract states “free replacement”.

If the agency charges the same fee for both new and transfer maids, what incentive is there for it to ensure good standards, since with each transfer, there is more money to be made from both the employer and the maid.

The Ministry of Manpower would be helping many families if it could do something about the situation. For instance, it could check on agencies that have high transfer rates.

Employers who take on transfer maids should not be paying the same agency fees since the agency had already charged the first employer that amount.
I hope something can be done to address this issue.

Ng Beng Choo

A reply to Ng Beng Choo’s and TWC2’s letters was later published:

Published in the Straits Times Forum, 2 March 2020:

Maid agencies have the right to set price of fees for services

We refer to the letters to the Forum (Agency charges same amount for new and transfer maids, Feb 20; and Maid agencies abusing their powers, Feb 24).

An employment agency charges a service fee to its client for services rendered.

Regardless of whether a foreign domestic worker (FDW) is arriving from the source country or is being transferred from one employer to another locally, an agency provides the services to an employer.

It would be wrong to assume that once the FDW is here in Singapore that the cost of the services rendered is any lower then when she arrives from source.

As for the placement fee that is charged to an FDW, it is not a penalty. The FDW is also a client of the employment agency.

The agency is responsible for serving the FDW and providing assistance to her, for which the agency is permitted to charge the FDW a fee of up to a maximum of two months of her salary.

However, there may be instances where the FDW who is transferred to an employer locally has to take a loan of more than two months of salary from her employer.

This is because the FDW may have incurred other costs in her home country when she first came to Singapore to work, for which the FDW has yet to pay off fully.

As a result, she will require a salary advance from her new employer to pay for the remaining costs.

It is the prerogative of an employment agency to set a value to their service, and the potential employer and FDW have the liberty to go to another employment agency that meets their requirements.

K. Jayaprema
Association of Employment Agencies