Since the arrival of Covid-19 in Singapore. domestic workers have been strongly urged to stay within their employers’ home even on their rest days. With the lockdown starting 7 April 2020, this rule has become stricter given the enforcement patrols undertaken by “safe distancing ambassadors” around public areas.  Despite the gradual Phase One lifting of the lockdown starting 2 June 2020, MOM’s advisory of 21 May 2020 says: “foreign domestic workers (FDWs) should stay at home during Phase One, including on their rest days. 

Former TWC2 president John Gee wrote to the press to highlight what such a lengthy stay-home order means to workers whose employers may have a tendency to be unsympathetic or possibly abusive. As far as we know, the letter has not been published. Enough time has passed that we can put it up here.

In many countries, there are reports that, since the introduction of work from home measures and restrictions on movement, there has been a marked increase in cases of domestic abuse. People who spent much of each day apart because of their work commitments found themselves forced to pass nearly all their time within the same home, and for some, this resulted in stresses that were taken out on vulnerable members of their households.

In most countries, those have often been wives or girlfriends. In Singapore, conditions are different. Partner abuse happens here too, but one in five households employs a domestic worker. Some may be vulnerable to abusive behaviour by either or both of their employers, male and female. The tendency for this to happen will very probably increase now that whole households are restricted to the same dwelling for long periods of time under stressful conditions.

Many employers are treating their domestic workers considerately and seeing that they are not loaded down with extra work and that they can communicate readily with friends and family by ‘phone, which can help to keep up their spirits. However, it would only be sensible to be alert to the risk of an increase in abusive behaviour in some homes.

The right of all domestic workers to retain their ‘phones and to use them to speak with their families and friends should be affirmed. Perhaps random spot check calls might also help to protect workers. Any who do feel driven to the extremity of fleeing their employers’ homes and are able to do so should be treated sympathetically.

Ultimately, it is to be hoped that, once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, employers who may not have given their workers days off before will remember how difficult they found it to cope with being cooped up in their homes for days on end and appreciate how necessary it is for all human beings to have time off to go out, spend their time as they please and socialise.

John Gee

Below, we include comments by the leaders of two domestic worker groups affiliated with TWC2:

Comments by the leader of the Filipino domestic worker group:

We are coping well though very tired. Having to cook three meals a day is taking a toll on our legs — that’s a common complaint we heard from domestic helpers lately. This is supported with photographs of cooked food that are flooding our friends’ wall updates in Facebook since the lockdown came in.

Our group is maintaining our weekly meetings using messenger group video call. Discussions have been on plans once the lockdown is lifted.

We have initiated a charity fund drive to help the needy back home. We helped one family this week.

One of our leaders has also been doing her own gift giving since the lockdown was imposed in her province using her own money. Her little ways, like always, help the poor and the needy.

Another is working with her employer’s daughter making face shields for the migrant workers. They made 350 pieces to date. She’s awesome.

Comments by the leader of the Indonesian domestic worker group:

What John has written about our conditions is absolutely true. But given the circumstances, we try to support each other to stay strong and positive. It doesn’t matter how hard it is to endure.

I have heard from a few friends they have difficulty to find new employer as the current [expat] employer is going back to their country. This makes it even harder for those who are within their contract; they have to try harder to able to cope with the situation as they still need the job to support their families back in Indonesia.

So far we always doing communication online, via Zoom or WhatsApp.

To reach out our fellow domestic workers out there we have discussion via Zoom, this way we hope we discover more about our friends difficulties. It is true that we can’t do much right now but we hope that we could at least give mental support for the hard days they’re going through.

To be honest we really, deeply miss our Sundays in TWC2’s DaySpace. We hope that the situation is back to normal soon.