Domestic workers with employment-related grievances or hardship will have a new centre specifically for them to turn to by the end of the month.
The assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, said yesterday: "It is our hope that in operating this new Centre for Domestic Employees, we will be able to reach out to and help even more workers, including those like this affected domestic worker."
He was referring to Ms Mersi Fransina Missa, 28, an Indonesian maid who has not been paid since October last year, when her employer fell into a coma.
In response to a Straits Times report about Ms Mersi, Mr Yeo, who is also the chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC), said: "As a labour movement, we are sympathetic that the domestic worker concerned has fallen upon hardship as a result of some unfortunate turn of events. We also sympathise with the employer in view of her current health condition."
He noted that the employer, who is single, did not intend to deprive the worker of her salary since she had dutifully paid Ms Mersi up until she had a second stroke in October.
The Ministry of Manpower has received about 600 complaints from maids about non-payment of salaries each year for the past two years.
NTUC declined to reveal more details on the new centre, the first for maids that it has launched.
Currently, migrant workers other than domestic workers may turn to the MWC for assistance with emergency housing and subsistence relief, complaint filing and representation through statutory resolution processes.
The MWC, a foreign workers advocacy organisation initiated by NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation, also helps to facilitate repatriation of workers who want to go home or transfer to a new employer if they choose to stay on and continue working. Its services are free and meant for all migrant workers who are work permit holders.
However, MWC caters mostly to migrant workers from the construction and other unionised industries, so domestic workers do not come under its scope.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics executive director Jolovan Wham said he hopes the function of the new centre will go beyond resolving personal complaints. As of June last year, there were 227,100 domestic workers here.
"Any assistance for them is useful, but for substantial change to take place, the centre needs to play more of a lobbying and advocacy role so that laws are enacted and enforced to ensure better protection for the workers."