SINGAPORE - An average of 550 cases a year of maids being made to work illegally by their employers or household members were handled by the Ministry of Manpower from 2017 to 2019.
This formed just 0.2 per cent of the over 236,000 employers of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) here.
Three quarters of the cases came from alerts by third parties, and a quarter were complaints made by the maids themselves, said MOM on Tuesday (Sept 8) in response to press queries.
The issue of illegal deployment of FDWs came under the spotlight after Ms Parti Liyani, a former domestic worker employed by Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family, was acquitted of stealing from them.
Ms Parti had been told by Mr Liew's wife, Madam Ng Lai Peng, to go her son, Mr Karl Liew's home to help there. She said she also cleaned his office once a week for a year.
MOM said it had consulted the Attorney-General's Chambers and, in May 2018, issued a caution against Madam Ng and an advisory notice to Mr Karl Liew.
An advisory notice is issued when the illegal deployment is not conclusively substantiated, while a caution is akin to a stern warning by the police, and is issued when MOM establishes that the illegal deployment is infrequent or took place over a short period of time.
"The caution sends a strong message to employers that they must comply with the law or face stronger enforcement action," said MOM.
There were no prior complaints against the parties in the case, added the ministry.
From 2017 to 2019, MOM took action against a yearly average of 155 employers for illegally deploying their FDWs.
Each year, about 60 employers were issued with advisory notices while 80 employers were issued with cautions. About 16 employers were given financial penalties, ranging from $3,300 to $24,000.
MOM said a "good number" of FDWs who alleged illegal deployment had left their employment when they reported the matter to the Ministry. Some asked for help to return home while others asked to be allowed to transfer to a new employer.
MOM said it treats seriously and looks into every allegation. In most of the cases, the FDWs had been deployed with their charges - either children or elderly persons - to close family members to continue to provide care to their charges.
The Ministry added that this is permitted so long as the FDWs accept the arrangements, are not required to perform the household chores of two families, and have their well-being taken care of.
MOM said it takes a stern view of cases when maids are deployed to participate in non-domestic work or to work in commercial premises, regularly and over a long period of time.
"It would be especially egregious if the FDWs are overworked and not provided with adequate rest. Their employers can be issued with financial penalties of up to $10,000 per count. They will also be debarred from hiring FDWs," said the Ministry.
It added that multiple efforts are taken to ensure maids are cared for by their employers.
First time workers attend a mandatory programme which informs them of their rights, including proper deployment by their employers.
MOM said it also regularly sends educational materials to maids, and that they are advised of the different channels of assistance available.
"They can also report illegal deployment or another other employment difficulties to the Ministry. They do not have to wait till they have left employment," said the Ministry.
FDWs who are unsure if their deployment is lawful should also contact MOM's FDW Helpline on 1800-339-5505 to seek clarification and assistance.