Forum: Move towards letting domestic workers switch employers freely

A domestic worker prepares food in the kitchen on April 27, 2020.
A domestic worker prepares food in the kitchen on April 27, 2020.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

While the new rule may incentivise some employers to give their foreign domestic workers (FDWs) the opportunity to transfer to other employers (New rule makes transfer of domestic helpers easier, May 18), the primary effect appears to be to alleviate the financial responsibility of upkeep and repatriation for employers who no longer wish to employ their FDWs.

The fundamental issue of FDWs having no authority over their employment status remains.

The changes proposed by the Ministry of Manpower retain the right of employers to terminate the services of the FDW, without regard for her desire to leave the employment or not, or a need to give notice of termination.

It gives an employer the choice to terminate the services of the FDW with the assurance that he does not have to pay for the FDW's upkeep and repatriation, if the employment agency has cancelled the FDW's work permit for the employer.

We may see more instances of employers authorising their employment agencies to cancel their FDWs' work permit and ending their employment.

Even if the basis of termination is unfair, employment agencies are likely to accede to the employers' requests as they form their customer base.

FDWs are also given only 14 days to secure a new employer, which may be too short a period.

There may also be instances where agents compel an FDW to take up employment she does not wish to, so that the employment agency does not continue to incur upkeep costs, bearing in mind that current travel restrictions around the region make it difficult for FDWs to be repatriated.

We should move towards establishing the right of FDWs to switch employers freely.

Lack of labour mobility for FDWs is a fundamental factor in their staying in exploitative working conditions and not reporting abuses and violations.

Jaya Anil Kumar

Casework Manager

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 21, 2020, with the headline 'Move towards letting domestic workers switch employers freely'. Print Edition | Subscribe