'Plug loophole' in maid application process, activists say

Ms Yanti did not know her former employer had applied for in-principle approval for her - resulting in the application being blocked when she wanted to work for someone else. The Manpower Ministry said such occurrences are rare, and that Ms Yanti and
Ms Yanti did not know her former employer had applied for in-principle approval for her - resulting in the application being blocked when she wanted to work for someone else. The Manpower Ministry said such occurrences are rare, and that Ms Yanti and her former employer had a misunderstanding, which has since been resolved.ST PHOTO: AW CHENG WEI

Maid did not know ex-employer applied for work permit for her

Ms Yanti came to Singapore to work as a maid in September 2014, but moved back to Indonesia 15 months later as she did not get along with her employer.

When she wanted to return to work for another family in January, she was shocked to discover that her work permit application did not go through as her former employer had already applied for one for her, effectively blocking anyone else from doing so.

"I was so sad," said Ms Yanti, 38. "I never promised my ma'am I wanted to come back to work for her. I wanted to change (employers)."

While the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said it is rare to see complaints against employers applying for work permits for maids without their consent and later refusing to cancel the application, activists said Ms Yanti's case highlights a loophole in the application process that can be abused.

The explicit consent of maids is not required for an in-principle work permit application, which agents and employers can apply for on their behalf.

In-principle approval (IPA) for maids is given by MOM before foreign women can enter Singapore to work as domestic helpers.

The Ministry of Manpower said it is rare to see complaints against employers applying for work permits for maids without their consent and later refusing to cancel the application.

Ms Yanti said: "My ma'am never asked me or told me before she applied for me."

The agent helping Ms Yanti, Mr Desmond Ding, who runs SG Manpower, said: "I was surprised to find my application blocked."

Other agents said they have not run into problems.

Mr Tay Khoon Beng, who runs Best Home Employment, said: "It can happen when maids have two agents, but I've not seen an agent- employer dispute over IPA."

When contacted by The Straits Times, Ms Yanti's previous employer declined to comment. But the application was cancelled in February and Ms Yanti is now working for another family. An MOM spokesman said Ms Yanti was in Indonesia when her former employer applied to hire her again.

"We understand that there was a miscommunication," he said, noting that the former employer had thought Ms Yanti wanted to work for her again. "The issue was promptly resolved following MOM's intervention," he added.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said such cases tend to happen to construction workers, whose companies have more quotas for foreign labour. He added: "Employers for domestic workers need help so they are unlikely to hold on to an IPA."

A spokesman for the Centre of Domestic Employees (CDE) - part of the labour movement - said mutual consent from the employer and the foreign domestic worker must be obtained for any employment contract to be effective.

He suggested adding a mandatory checkbox to the existing online system to require the work permit applicant to declare that consent has been obtained from the maid.

"If there is any dispute, we urge both employer and employee to approach CDE for mediation to resolve the issues amicably," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline ''Plug loophole' in maid application process'. Print Edition | Subscribe