Maids dare not say 'no' when bosses suggest salary safekeeping

As a long-time volunteer with Transient Workers Count Too, which has taken a similar stand to Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) on the issue of safekeeping of salaries, I find Senior Tech Correspondent Irene Tham's remarks disconcerting.

She said: "It is easy to clamour for maids' rights when one is not inconvenienced by their actions." (Maids in debt: Protect employers from their creditors; Oct 15). This observation is familiar but quite ill-founded.

Many of our members and supporters are employers of domestic workers and we try to live by what we say, including paying workers in full and on time, giving them a weekly day off, and keeping in check how much work we ask them to do.

Ms Tham said salary safekeeping is a contentious issue with only a few domestic workers, citing a figure of fewer than 600 complaints a year to Ministry of Manpower, but this figure certainly understates the prevalence of discontent with the practice.

Newly employed workers want to keep their jobs and generally think that they must, therefore, agree to do what their employers want, so when an employer proposes to safekeep their salaries, they say "Yes".

When they experience difficulties in recovering the money when they need to do so, many would not make a complaint to MOM in order to avoid a confrontation with their employer, which could result in some form of retaliation without money due being recovered.

While I think Ms Tham's suggestion that domestic workers' employers' addresses not be included on their work permits is reasonable, it does not deal with the more fundamental problems: Domestic workers are the lowest paid workers in Singapore, and when they start work, they typically face six to nine months of salary deductions for their recruitment costs, while their families are expecting them to remit money to them.

John Gee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Maids dare not say 'no' when bosses suggest salary safekeeping'. Print Edition | Subscribe