In April 2021, TWC2 noticed a posting in the forum section of the site in which personal information of a domestic worker was posted, apparently without the worker’s consent. We wrote an email to the owners of the site, drawing their attention to the posting.

Someone from Tian Dot Com Pte Ltd, who signed off as “Bee Lee”, wrote back within hours to say that they had removed the file. However it was disappointing that the site did not seem to have gone beyond that single posting to review their policy and all other postings. We came to this belief from what subsequently happened, as discussed below.

The SingaporeMotherhood site is not primarily meant for discussions about domestic workers, as a quick tour of the site will reveal. However, it has a forum section in which any registered user can contribute postings. Non-registered users can view.

We recently had time to go through more of the forum, and in January 2022 found several more examples wherein details such as work permit numbers, FIN numbers, dates of birth and photographs of domestic workers were openly publicised. We wrote to the site owner again, listing the posts we found. They replied within a day and said the posts had been taken down.

However, with a further search, we found yet more posts featuring personal details, dating from earlier. For the third time, we alerted them.

Below are four examples of postings we found in our January 2022 search (we found more than four). The four examples date from 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. The fact that several of them dated from before our April 2021 email sent to the moderator and were still up on the site as at January 2022, told us that no policy change was made in April 2021, and no review of old postings was conducted.

In the thread “Parents beware of hiring this particular Myanmar maid [worker’s name included]”, we saw this, dating from July 2019:

The words “Long post with attachments” were added by TWC2. We have pixelated her face as well.

Clicking the first of the PDF attachments would download this, but naturally we pixelated the face and sensitive information:

Although the above PDF, with its letterhead, seems to have originated from an employment agency, the posting on SingaporeMotherhood was made by a person with username “Miao_28”. It is unlikely to be anyone from the agency.

In January 2020, “Miao_28” followed up with another posting about the same domestic worker from Myanmar and this time attached what looks like downloaded information from the Ministry of Manpower. The work permit number, foreigner identification number (FIN), passport number and date of birth were published, along with her employment history

The same month, January 2020, user “arsenalgirl” posted the work permit number of another Burmese domestic worker.

It was TWC2 who pixelated her name, work permit number and face.

In August 2021, user “Mango2021” published the FIN number of yet another domestic worker.

In January 2022, user “Mr Foo” contibuted a posting in which he attached an image of a worker’s work permit. The image at SingaporeMotherhood could be downloaded displaying details clearly, but in the image below, we have kept it small and illegible and we have pixelated her face. The allegation made by “Mr Foo” is potentially defamatory too.

Responding only to complaints?

While Tian Dot Com Pte Ltd was prompt in replying to our emails, the fact is that they were only acting on specific posts that we identified. They did not put in the effort to search through all other postings in their forums for similarly offensive posts and clean up the site.

We can understand that moderating an active forum is not easy and requires resources, but unfortunately, both ethics and the law call for more pro-active management.

It is also noteworthy that when we set about a search, we could find posts from years back revealing workers’ personal details, indicating that in all these years that the posts were up, no other user or visitor to the site had reported them to the site administrator. This suggests a general attitude among Singaporeans that they see nothing wrong with posting personal details, so long as these details are of a migrant worker. Such an attitude is disgraceful.

The Carousell case

In 2018, there was an outcry after an employment agency advertised their domestic workers on online sales site Carousell. It looked awfully like workers were being sold as merchandise.

The Straits Times reported on 20 September 2018 that

The employment agency that “sold” maids on online retail platform Carousell has had its licence suspended.

In a statement on Wednesday (Sept 19), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it has established that employment agency SRC Recruitment was behind the maid advertisements.

The ministry said the agency has been served with a notice of licence suspension and can no longer deploy any new foreign domestic workers (FDWs) for employment.

The MOM also said it was investigating the agency with the view to taking prosecution actions for infringements under the Employment Agencies Act (EAA).

The suspension will remain for as long as investigations are ongoing, the ministry said.

On 13 November 2018, Channel NewsAsia reported that an employment agent, Erleena Mohd Ali, who put up the advertisements on behalf of her agency SRC Recruitment was fined S$20,000. The report added that she had sought permission from SRC’s management to do so. At court, the prosecutor said, “The accused then posted the available foreign domestic workers for selection by prospective employers on Carousell with details that would cast the foreign domestic workers in a manner akin to a commodity that can be bought and sold.”

The CNA story did not reveal what exactly the charges were, but merely that Erleena was found guilty of ten charges under the Employment Agency Licence Conditions, “for insensitive advertising that cast foreign domestic workers in an undignified light and failing to ensure that the full name and licence number of her agency was stated when advertising. Eighty-nine other similar charges were taken into consideration.”

Some months later, the employment agency itself was fined a total of $78,000 and had its licence revoked. As reported by Yahoo News on 30 April 2019,

An employment agency (EA) that posted “insensitive” advertisements for foreign maids on Carousell was fined a total of $78,000 and had its license revoked on Tuesday (30 April).

SRC Recruitment was fined $48,000 after pleading guilty in March to 16 charges of breaching EA licensing conditions by advertising foreign domestic workers (FDWs) insensitively and casting them in an undignified light, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in a press release.

The firm was slapped with a further $30,000 in fines for another 29 charges under the Employment Agencies Act (EAA). These included 15 counts of failing to include the firm’s name and license number in its advertisements, two counts of failing to administer FDW safety agreements and 10 counts of failing to issue itemised receipts to FDWs.

A total of 99 charges were taken into account for the firm’s sentencing. MOM added that a “notice of license revocation has been served to SRC” over the case.

Subliminal norm-setting

Whilst all the above transgressions were by private parties, it remains pertinent to interrogate the role of State policies in the formation of social atttudes. We’re not just referring to the attitudes of the transgressors, but also the apathy of other users of the SingaporeMotherhood site, none of whom seemed to have reported any of the posts for years and years. Did they all think that disclosing personal data of maids was acceptable?

Our State policies stress the role of employers in “controlling” their foreign employees. Other times, it is expressed differently, with employers tasked to “look after” their foreign employees. Both invocations treat the migrant worker as wards of the employer. This line of thinking is further buttressed by the $5,000 security bond which employers must put up and which can be forfeited if the worker “runs away”, among other infractions. It’s a very short hop from what the State demands of employers to employers thinking of migrant workers as lesser humans unworthy of equal respect.