An employer who thought her three young sons had a good bond with the family's maid was shocked to find out that the woman had been threatening them.
The maid told the boys, aged three to nine, that their father would cane them if they complained to him, said the 35-year-old mother, who gave her name only as Madam Ang.
"One of my sons told me after she left that she once took him into the toilet and choked him as punishment," said the teacher, who found out only after she ended the contract in October. She no longer relies on help as she managed to get childcare places for her younger sons.
She decided to write to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) about the maid as "I wanted to alert other employers that this could happen".
About 150 employers provide comments on their former maids each month, and allow MOM to give their contact details, a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times. The figure has been fairly stable and represents less than 0.1 per cent of about 240,000 domestic workers here.
In such cases, a note in the work permit application system notifies agents that comments have been provided. Prospective employers can contact the former employer if they wish. Complaints range from bad work attitude to theft. A maid will be barred from working here if convicted of a criminal offence.
Started in 2010, the system aims to help prospective employers make informed decisions, "similar to how companies conduct reference checks on job candidates", said the spokesman. To reflect this, MOM recently renamed it "reference channel", instead of "feedback channel".
But while there are genuine grievances, employment agents said they have seen instances when employers leave feedback just to make it difficult for the maid to find work elsewhere.
Some would-be employers stick with a maid after reading the comments, but most choose not to.
Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K. Jayaprema said: "Some are not comfortable and think the domestic worker is unreliable, while others believe the situation could have just been a misunderstanding."
The onus should be on prospective employers to ask maids for employer references - as is practised by companies - rather than the Government getting involved, said Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics acting executive director Jolovan Wham.
ALERTING OTHER EMPLOYERS
It's not that I want to stop her from working in Singapore - she also has a family to feed. But I do not want prospective employers to face this especially if they're desperately searching for a helper.
MADAM JENNY CHIA, on why she left a note about a maid using the MOM channel. The maid backed out of a contract at the last minute after finding another employer.
Best Home Employment Agency owner Tay Khoon Beng suggested having maid agencies play a mediating role if disputes arise, before MOM decides whether or not to place the note in the system.
Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training executive director William Chew said there should be checks to ensure feedback is genuine. "If an employer gives feedback, the helper should be consulted also," he said.
Employer Jenny Chia, 33, left a note about a maid whom she felt showed a lack of trustworthiness that may affect how she cares for young children or elderly people.
Madam Chia, who works in a financial advisory firm, said she signed a contract last December expecting the maid to start work two weeks later, but she broke the contract after finding another employer.
"It's not that I want to stop her from working in Singapore - she also has a family to feed. But I do not want prospective employers to face this especially if they're desperately searching for a helper," she said.
MOM may decide not to provide an employer's contact details if the maid has a substantiated complaint about the employer, "to guard against abuse of the reference channel", said its spokesman.
But Mr Wham said it may be hard to prove issues such as verbal abuse or a lack of privacy.
The spokesman also said MOM's role is confined to facilitating voluntary reference checks by would-be employers, by prompting them that a former employer offered to comment. "If prospective employers wish to hear the (worker's) side of the story, he could already do so by interviewing her directly," she said.