NGO slams study claiming most maids here are exploited

Rights group Home says it disagrees with findings of researcher whom it engaged

The study conceptualised by Home was earlier panned by MOM as "painting a misleading picture" of the employment of maids here.
The study conceptualised by Home was earlier panned by MOM as "painting a misleading picture" of the employment of maids here. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

A recent study, that claimed most maids here are exploited, has been denounced - by the very group that conceptualised the study.

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) has distanced itself from the study led by volunteer researcher Anja Wessels, who asserted that three in five maids here are exploited and one in five maids is a victim of forced labour.

The study surveyed 735 Indonesian and Filipino foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in 2015 and concluded that existing frameworks in Singapore have "systemically enabled bonded labour", using indicators of exploitation and forced labour by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Earlier this month, the Manpower Ministry (MOM) panned the study.

Home, which engaged Ms Wessels to conduct the study on its behalf, now says it disagrees with how she interpreted some of the indicators. "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," said the non-governmental organisation, which advocates for migrant workers' rights and conceptualised the study in 2014.

Ms Wessels, a German native based in Sydney, left the project in October due to these disagreements, but the 151-page study was later published by her 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, MOM had accused researchers of "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 MOM and Home were credited by Ms Wessels and her team in their report. Home provided translators to the researchers, and part of the study was conducted through former executive director Jolovan Wham's Facebook page.

In a response to The Straits Times, Ms Wessels said the team had consulted MOM early in the research process. "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 feedback from their important stakeholder perspective," she said.

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

When asked about Home's involvement, Ms Wessels said she holds great respect for Home and has acted transparently and in good faith in all her dealings with the group. "Regarding any disagreement in the findings, I welcome a professional discourse with Home or anyone else about the report based on the content, which I stand behind as a scientist," she said, adding that she notified Home of the publication date.

Home said it will present another report early next year after it re-analyses the data in her study.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2017, with the headline NGO slams study claiming most maids here are exploited. Subscribe