NGO for migrant workers, Home, denounces study which said majority of maids here exploited

The study found that three in five maids in Singapore are exploited and one in five maids are victims of forced labour.
The study found that three in five maids in Singapore are exploited and one in five maids are victims of forced labour.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home) is the latest migrant worker rights group to denounce a recent study that said maid here are exploited.

The study surveyed 735 Indonesian and Filipino foreign domestic workers (FDW) in 2015 and found that three in five maids here are exploited and one in five maids are victims of forced labour.

It concluded that existing frameworks in Singapore have "systemically enabled bonded labour", using indicators of exploitation and forced labour by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

While the project was actually conceptualised in 2014 by Home, the non-governmental organisation which advocates for migrant workers rights said in a statement on Friday (Dec 22) that it had engaged a volunteer researcher, Ms Anja Wessels, to lead and execute the study on its behalf.

However, Home and Ms Wessels disagreed on the manner in which some of the indicators were interpreted.

"For instance, according to Ms Wessels, a domestic worker who did not have a 24-hour day off or did not have the keys to her employers' house was classified as someone who was coerced," said a Home spokesman.

Home also disagreed with the researcher's assertion in the report that Filipinos were more vulnerable than Indonesians.

"These concerns were communicated to Ms Wessels as the report was being prepared in its early stages," it added.

Ms Wessels left the project in October due to these disagreements, but the 151-page study was later published by Ms Wessel's Sydney-based firm Research Across Borders (RAB) without Home's permission, the spokesman added.

The study was also the first publication by RAB, which was established in 2015.

Earlier this month on Dec 3, the Ministry of Manpower also panned the study, accusing researchers for "painting a misleading picture of the employment of FDWs in Singapore". It also said Ms Wessels' and her team used an overly simplified interpretation of labour exploitation.

Other migrant worker rights groups have also said that they were sceptical of RAB's findings.

Both the MOM and Home were credited by Ms Wessels and her team in their report. Home had provided translators to the researchers, and part of the study was also conducted through Home's former executive director Jolovan Wham's Facebook page.

In a response to The Straits Times, Ms Wessels said they had consulted MOM early in the research process.

Ms Wessels, a German national who now resides in Sydney, said the authors of the study, including Madeline Ong and Davinia Daniel, started as pro-bono researchers in 2015 with her being its principal investigator.

"Within this time, in 2016, after a first analysis of the findings, the research team met with MOM to discuss these findings in order to allow for a feedback from their important stakeholder perspective," she said.


She added that she had adopted ILO's 2009 framework, which was also used to identify exploitation on previous research on the same topic and data. The ILO also highlighted the need to adapt their framework to the respective national context and to select nationally relevant indicators, added Ms Wessels.

"The intention of this report was never to denounce the Singapore Government or Singapore in general but to seek a discourse. As such, I respect and welcome any feedback."

When asked about Home's involvement, Ms Wessels said that all content in the report expresses the opinions of the authors only and does not express the opinions of Home or any acknowledged party.

Home said it will present another report early next year after it reanalyses the data in Ms Wessels' study.