MANILA - The Philippines has feted a Singapore non-profit organisation for its years-long work to help domestic workers in the Republic.
President Rodrigo Duterte conferred the Kaanib ng Bayan (Nation's Partner) Award on Wednesday (Dec 5) to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast).
The organisation, a charity supported by the Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM), was recognised for its "exceptional or significant contribution... to advance the cause or promote the interests of overseas Filipino communities".
Many of the domestic workers now in Singapore are Filipinos.
"It's a recognition of the work that Fast is doing, and we're glad that we have been recognised. This encourages us to do more," the group's president Seah Seng Choon told The Straits Times.
Since it was formed in 2005, Fast has been organising courses and programmes to help domestic workers learn skills that can add value to their work and enhance their future employability.
These include cooking, baking, infant and elder care, foot reflexology, computer literacy, English, stress management, and entrepreneurship.
Over 25,000 maids go through these Fast-sponsored courses each year.
Fast has also been providing venues for maids to socialise, giving them a cushion to soften blows from homesickness, pressures from work and other challenges that go with living in another country.
It has a clubhouse where domestic workers can celebrate their birthdays, join fitness classes, use computers, and access a library and recreation room.
Close to 10,000 maids have signed up as club members.
Fast is set to move to a bigger clubhouse in Telok Kurau next year, according to Mr Seah.
A pivotal role for Fast has been in settling disputes between maids and their employers.
In 2013, it set up a 24-hour "helpline" for domestic workers.
Mr Seah said Fast gets about 180 calls monthly from maids seeking help. Most involve salary and allowance payments, days off or requests for help transferring to other employers.
Fast mediates between employers and their maids whenever disputes arise, so that a settlement can be reached. If a resolution is not possible, the group helps maids get in touch with the MOM, or transfer to other employers.
Many calls also come from domestic workers who just need someone to talk to.
"They are emotionally unstable because they are lonely. They come to a foreign land, and they miss their families. They are also not able to cope with the stress of their work," said Mr Seah.
In some cases, Fast has had to dispatch volunteers to pick up maids who ran away from their employers and had been left out on the streets.
"There'd be a few cases like this every month," said Mr Seah.
The maids are sent to shelters as Fast tries to work out a settlement.