Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) has seen its first case involving a domestic worker escaping her employers' home through a rubbish chute, says Home's executive director Jolovan Wham.
The 27-year-old maid tried to climb down a rubbish chute in a seventh-floor public flat in November last year. She fell on top of a rubbish heap and ended up with a broken lip and leg fracture - and now has eight rings attached to her spine to hold it in place. She also has to wear a waist brace.
The maid, who gave her name only as Rindu, was discharged from the National University Hospital last month after three operations.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said Ms Rindu claimed she was not abused or mistreated by her employers and neither was she confined nor prevented from leaving the house.
"The worker has also since requested that her remaining salaries be paid and to return to Batam. MOM saw to the payment of her salaries and made arrangements for her to leave Singapore," he added.
However, the Indonesian worker claimed she was desperate to escape her employers' daily criticisms. "I regret jumping... but I didn't know what else to do," she said. "I was really afraid of what my employer was going to do to me."
Ms Rindu, who left Singapore to rest in a shelter in Batam last month, said she was constantly berated for her work. Once, she claimed, her employer splashed hot water on her while she was washing dishes.
"She said I was getting lazy and I didn't do my job (well)." She was also scolded in front of others at a chalet in Changi, where her employers held a gathering. She said she was sent to a room and could not leave it for fear of angering them.
The relationship with her employers, a car salesman and his housewife spouse, deteriorated a month into her job. Before that, they took her out at least thrice for family gatherings and once to the hairdresser. They also taught her how to do chores such as washing clothes and mopping the floor.
Her duties also included taking care of her employers' two teenage children, including waking up at about 5am to make coffee for them.
"I don't know what changed. I'd been doing everything the same," she said, noting that they conversed mostly in English.
Ms Rindu also complained that she lacked sleep as her employers played mahjong at least thrice a week. Sometimes, the sessions lasted until 5am, she said.
She decided to run away a day after her employer allegedly dumped a bucket of warm water into the sink while she was washing dishes.
"I felt scared... I think she did it on purpose though she said 'sorry' and walked away," she said.
At 6am the next day, she climbed into the chute after gathering blankets and clothes to make a rope. "It was very dark and I couldn't see," she said. She claimed that she could not open the main door as it was electronically bolted and the keys were taken away from her.
When The Straits Times visited her employers two weeks ago, they disputed her claims and said they had engaged a lawyer.
"We have been saddled with her medical fees," said her female employer, who declined to be named. MOM has advised her employers to submit a claim to Ms Rindu's insurance company.
Mr Gan Ngin Hwa, who was Ms Rindu's agent, said he first received her employers' request for a transfer in early November. "The new maid was actually coming in a week's time," he said. "If she had waited another week, she would not have been injured."
Mr Wham said the incident could have been avoided if Ms Rindu had been given days off. "The stress of living and working with her employer became too overwhelming and led to this." Agents, too, "need to show more care and concern with regular communication", he added.
MOM advises workers with problems and issues they cannot resolve directly with their employers to seek help from their employment agents, who have a duty to assist.
Maids can call MOM on 1800- 339-5505. "Workers should not take matters into their own hands and attempt acts that will cause harm to themselves," said the spokesman.