Sheltered from the rain by the roof ledge, the women were seen balancing gingerly on a narrow temporary scaffolding, while seemingly sanding the walls of a two-storey Cluny Park house without helmets, workboots and protective gear.
Three maids, employed at the residence, have reportedly been working on the house's facade for the past two months, according to allegations being investigated now by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
When The Straits Times visited the house yesterday, the maids were working on what appeared to be the top storey of the house while it was raining.
ST understands that the scaffolding was rented from a construction company and the tools were purchased by their employer. When approached, the maids declined to speak to the press. One said she was afraid of losing her job.
Their employer told ST that the maids were just helping her to clean the windows and facade, which were dirtied by construction works at another house nearby. She added that the scaffolding was only erected about a week ago, and that she has asked for it to be taken down. "I will never jeopardise their safety," she said.
However, a neighbour said she has seen the three Indonesian women work long hours, and that they were worried for their safety. "It is crazy, to see them doing this kind of work. If they fall and die or hurt themselves it will be too late to help them," she said. "I think we need to raise this issue and get them help."
The ministry said that it will be investigating the employer concerned for possible infringement of the law as maids are only allowed to perform household duties at their employers' residence, as stated in the work permit.
NOT AT RISK
I will never jeopardise their safety.
WORRIED FOR MAIDS' SAFETY
It is crazy, to see them doing this kind of work. If they fall and die or hurt themselves, it will be too late to help them. I think we need to raise this issue and get them help.
It also said employers should not assign work without regard for the safety of their maids, and that those who flout the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to one year, or both.
Associate Professor Goh Yang Miang of the National University of Singapore's Department of Building pointed out several safety flaws, including the lack of guardrails on the scaffold. He also noted that the maids were using restraint belts instead of full-body harnesses.
Restraints belts are meant to prevent one from going too close to the edge, and are not meant to arrest a fall. In fact, the belt might slip off or cause further injuries if the wearer falls, said Prof Goh.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), a local domestic worker charity, said it has never come across such an incident. But its executive director Sheena Kanwar said: "The maids are not qualified for such jobs. It is bizarre that they are required to do such work."
Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Centre for Domestic Employees and assistant director-general of the National Trades Union Congress, said that unlike licensed and trained construction workers, maids are not protected from potential injury or death by any relevant employment and workplace injury acts.
He added:"Should anything happen to these workers, they have no insurance or infrastructures in place to protect them."
On Oct 3, a maid in her 20s fell seven storeys at a Tampines condominium while apparently cleaning the windows. She was severely injured.
This happened despite maids not being allowed to clean the outside of windows since 2012, unless they are physically supervised by their employer or by an adult representative of their employer. Window grilles, which need to be installed, also have to be locked at all times during the cleaning process.
Members of the public with such information should notify MOM immediately to avoid putting the lives of foreign domestic workers in danger. They can call 6438 5122 or email email@example.com to seek help from MOM.