Organisations working with foreign domestic workers (FDWs) have welcomed the possibility of stiffer jail terms for employers who ill-treat their maids by withholding food.
However, they said harsher penalties alone would not be enough to change things.
Ms Stephanie Chok, a case manager with the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), believes consistent enforcement would be a more effective deterrent. She said Home's help desk regularly gets complaints from maids who say they are not given adequate food to eat.
Ms Chok said: "It is rare to see employers prosecuted for not providing adequate food for domestic workers. It seems only in the most egregious of cases that the Ministry of Manpower takes enforcement action. FDWs work long hours and need adequate nutrition and calories to stay healthy."
Meanwhile, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Centre for Domestic Employees and the Migrant Workers' Centre, and Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training executive director William Chew said the fact that Singapore had to resort to stricter laws to compel employers to treat their helpers better did not cast a good light on the country.
While Mr Chew believes the harsher penalties would prevent more such crimes, he noted: "It is sad that we have to use penalties and punishments to get our people to treat humans with dignity."
Education and awareness must go hand in hand with stiffer terms, he said. "We must learn how to treat others well and work towards cultivating a warm society."
Mr Yeo said Singapore has to act fast to foster a cordial working relationship culture between employers and maids since demand for FDWs is set to rise from about 240,000 workers today to 300,000 by 2030 as the population ages.
He said: "We must ensure that all workers who are thinking of working abroad in this line to really consider Singapore as a choice destination. We have to spare no efforts in sending a positive signal to them."