It is commendable that a special group of lawyers in the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is trying to bring a swifter end to the ordeal of abused foreign workers in Singapore. The group's efforts are a reminder that workers are workers, whether local or foreign, male or female, professional or blue-collar. This means that they deserve equal access to the law. They do, of course, but their ability to use that access varies.
Abused foreign workers may face impediments when their relationship with employers breaks down. Domestic workers fear being sent back home if they complain against errant employers. Their cases could take months or even years to come to court. Knowing this can only embolden errant employers into believing that their hapless workers would withdraw their complaints and return home silently. Since the reduced fear of prosecution increases the propensity to wayward behaviour, the AGC lawyers have sent out a clear message that Singapore will not tolerate the victimisation of workers, particularly when its chances are multiplied by their vulnerability.
The group's work has produced dramatic results, nearly halving the average time taken to bring closure to cases. Though the AGC lawyers often have to interview maids after a full day's work or on weekends, they find the work fulfilling because bringing justice to the abused is the other face of the coin of bringing the abuser to justice.
Apart from issues of right and wrong, the AGC lawyers draw attention to the role which foreign domestic workers play in Singapore. They contribute to the ability of both spouses to work, secure in the knowledge that their homes, children and the elderly are being cared for. Along with those in construction and cleaning, these workers take up jobs Singaporeans generally do not want. Their mostly anonymous labour underpins Singapore's way of life, but it should not be taken for granted.