Coronavirus: More maids running away during circuit breaker, say advocacy groups

Domestic workers staying at a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics celebrating Labour Day. PHOTO: HUMANITARIAN ORGANISATION FOR MIGRATION ECONOMICS

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - She claimed she had to endure verbal abuse from her employer from the time she started working for the family in January.

And she said it got worse during the circuit breaker period, with enforced and prolonged stay-home measures putting her under greater scrutiny.

The foreign domestic worker (FDW) from the Philippines, who is in her late 30s, eventually reached a breaking point and ran away from her employer's home earlier this month, Ms Jaya Anil Kumar, a case manager at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), told The New Paper.

"She told us her employer called her 'b*******' and she would sometimes have to eat lunch late because she was made to finish her work first," said Ms Jaya.

The woman called Home's helpline, and the migrant worker advocacy group arranged for her employment agency to pick her up.

She is now housed by her agency and awaits repatriation as she wishes to return home.

Tensions between employers and FDWs during the Covid-19 pandemic have escalated, according to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast).

It told TNP recently that the number of runaway cases it received in the last two months has more than doubled, from 13 in March to 29 in April.

More FDWs have also called Home's helpline and said they want to leave their employer's residence, though it could not provide exact figures.

Temporary accommodation at shelters run by welfare groups have been busy.

The Philippine Embassy in Singapore as well as Home, which has about 50 FDWs at its shelter, said they have had to limit the number of residents at their shelters to ensure safe distancing.

TNP reported last month that more flashpoints had emerged between employers and FDWs during the circuit breaker period.


With more to feed and more cleaning to be done, some FDWs have endured heavier workloads and shortened rest hours, while others say they were not compensated for work assigned to them on their rest days at home.

Ms Jaya said some have experienced "severe verbal abuse, salary disputes or other well-being issues".

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), added: "FDWs are more stressed, tired and need a bit more rest, but are afraid of articulating these to their employers."

For other FDWs, it was their employers who showed them the door.

A Filipino FDW in her 30s, who declined to be named, told TNP she was barred from entering her former employer's Housing Board flat after she went out on her rest day in February because he was afraid she would bring the coronavirus home.

He told her to put herself up at a friend's or relative's place for 20 days before calling him to check if she could return. He did this after having given her the green light to go out that day.

She said: "I was shocked. I had worked for them for five years and suddenly I had to think about where to go.

"I went to a budget hotel in Geylang, but I couldn't sleep at all because I still felt lost."

She sought shelter at Home's facility on the advice of a friend two days later. After about a month there, she was hired by another employer when her previous employer did not want to take her back.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) confirmed on Sunday (May 17) it is investigating the former employer for a breach of the work permit conditions, but added that complaints of FDWs being evicted from their employers' homes are rare.

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers can be fined up to $10,000, or be jailed for up to a year, or both, if they fail to provide acceptable accommodation for an FDW they employ.

MOM said, together with its partners, it has seen an increase in queries from FDWs on work and rest day arrangements, and with its advice, "the vast majority were able to reach a mutual understanding with their employers on these issues".

Its spokesman added: "We have seen a drop in the number of FDW work permit cancellations during this period.

"While this could be due in part to the lack of flights to the FDWs' home countries, it also reflects that more employers and FDWs are putting in effort to resolve any disputes and choosing to continue their employment relationships."


Ministry of Manpower Foreign Domestic Worker Helpline: 1800-339-5505

Centre for Domestic Employees: 1800-225-5233

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics: 9787-3122

Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training: 1800-339-4357

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