Do more to protect interests of employers

While a small proportion of employers do impose their own penalties on their FDWs, these are illegal and are dealt with legally.
While a small proportion of employers do impose their own penalties on their FDWs, these are illegal and are dealt with legally.PHOTO: ST FILE

It is difficult not to disagree with the report by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics and Hong Kong-based anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared (Report suggests maids at risk of forced labour; Jan 16).

First, the report was based on 2,832 complaints it received from April 2017 to March last year, instead of general opinions of foreign domestic workers (FDW) in Singapore.

Basing the conclusion of forced labour on only about 1 per cent of the 250,000-strong FDW population here lodging complaints raises a red flag. These should instead be treated as anomalies due to irresponsible employers.

Second, FDWs certainly do not fit the International Labour Organisation's definition of forced labour, which is described as a person "under the menace of any penalty and for which (he) has not offered himself voluntarily".

While a small proportion of employers do impose their own penalties on their FDWs, these are illegal and are dealt with legally.

Furthermore, the work FDWs do, such as cleaning, cooking or taking care of elderly people or children, involves tasks that they are expected to do and is therefore voluntary.

I am mostly flabbergasted by suggestions such as allowing FDWs to switch employers freely with clear notice periods (More protections suggested; Jan 16). Doing so will put a great burden on prospective employers who have to put down significant initial payments, such as for placement fees and airline tickets, to bring the FDW here.

While extending the Employment Act to allow regulated working hours, sick leave or overtime pay are commendable ideas, these are not feasible. Let us not forget that these FDWs work and sleep in the employers' houses, where resources are also being spent for their well-being.

The Government has also introduced various measures to improve the working conditions for FDWs, such as a weekly rest day.

More should be done to protect the interests of FDW employers instead. Scouring websites, I have observed that there appears to be more complaints from helpless employers than from FDWs.

Charles Yast

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2019, with the headline 'Do more to protect interests of employers'. Print Edition | Subscribe