Understand plight of domestic workers

A maid doing laundry at a home along Thomson Road, on March 8, 2017.
A maid doing laundry at a home along Thomson Road, on March 8, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

The domestic worker who lied to the police that her employer's husband had raped her definitely did something wrong (Jail for maid who lied that boss' hubby had raped her, May 16).

Giving false information to the police is a crime.

However, if we attempt to delve into the reason for her doing so, it might give us a better understanding of the plight of foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

They come from low socio-economic backgrounds in their country of origin and are usually not well educated.

They place their trust entirely in their employers and agents when they travel so far and leave their families behind.

As they live with their employers, they are exposed to greater threats of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

In this case, the employer having an affair with the worker shows that he was exploiting her vulnerability.

What if the domestic worker had become pregnant because of this relationship?

The worker's work permit would have been cancelled and she would have been deported immediately.

Would it still be the mistake of only the domestic worker?

The domestic worker was also not permitted to return home, even though she wanted to.

This might have led to her desperation in going to the extent of making a false police report.

Considering this, there are some systemic problems that can be identified.

Foreign domestic workers pay huge recruitment fees to agents, and these are deducted from their salary in the first three to six months.

In most instances, these foreign domestic workers are under pressure to endure deceptive practices because of these financial obligations.

Their passports are often held by their employers and their movements are restricted.

People should consider whether they would feel the same sense of desperation and the need to escape if their movements were restricted, they were forced to work long hours and live at their place of work.

Domestic workers should be given fewer restrictions and be allowed to switch employers with more flexibility.

After all, they are here to work and earn money to support their families back home.

Kalpana Balaji

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Understand plight of domestic workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe