Do more to protect, support maids

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) has seen an increase in the number of women trying to escape their agents or employers by attempting dangerous escapes out of high-rise apartments.

In the past six months, we have assisted four such women, and all faced the following issues: verbal and psychological abuse; no or limited access to a key to leave the house; loneliness and depression; and long working hours with no days off.

Therefore, we are concerned about the recent arrest of a 34-year-old foreign domestic worker ("Maid arrested after fall from second-storey flat"; ST Online, April 12). It is important to know the circumstances behind the fall, and arresting someone who is injured and possibly escaping abuse is an inappropriate response.

In Home's survey of almost 700 domestic workers last year, we found that almost a quarter of them suffered from a mental health problem.

Only 38 per cent of them reported being treated with dignity by their employers. Seventy per cent felt homesick at some point and 51 per cent said they were verbally abused at work.

More must be done to understand the vulnerabilities faced by domestic workers.

Some may also be victims of human trafficking and forced labour.

Their working conditions could be significantly different from what was promised to them by recruiters, and they could be compelled to labour under exploitative conditions to pay off hefty recruitment debts.

Instead of criminalising them for committing a "rash act", we need to create greater employment protection and social support for these women.

Including them in the Employment Act and giving them the right to switch employers freely will increase their bargaining power and create the conditions for them to stand up to abuse and exploitation.

Tam Peck Hoon (Ms)

Head

Legal and Advocacy

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics