Migrant Workers: Litany of Abuses

Posted by Sinapan Samydorai under Labour Watch on 24 December 2001

Employers keep maids' passports to prevent them from running away. Some maids get no days off and are prohibited from leaving their employers' home. Some women have been beaten and raped by employers, and some have fallen to their deaths while washing windows in high-rise apartments.

The adoption in 1990 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families established a comprehensive framework to uphold the rights of migrants. Think Centre hopes that the Singapore government will ratify the UN International Convention.

General Information:

Total Population: 4.02 million

Resident Population (citizens and PR): 3.26 million

Elderly aged 65 and above 235,000 (or 7 per cent of the population) in 1999.

Labour force 2.1 Million

Foreign workers 612,000 [29.2%]


- Filipinos 120,000,including 80,000 maids

- Thais 62,000

* Total Foreign Domestic Workers [FDW] 140,000 about one for every eight households

* FDWs salaries average Singapore dollars $330 Filippino FDW to $230 Indonesian FDW

* FDWs Monthly levy rate S$345

The Migrant Workers

Singapore employs about 140,000 foreign maids, about 80,000 from the Philippines and the rest from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand.

Foreign Domestic Workers earn an average of Singapore dollars $330 to $230 a month. Filipino maids speaking English often make better money then Indonesian maids. Moreover, the Philippines government brokered a deal with employment agencies in Singapore which permits most Filipinos to get their Sunday off. Many maids paid a lot of money for an overseas contract and some are heavily indebted to moneylenders and agents.

Employers keep maids' passports to prevent them from running away. Some maids get no days off and are prohibited from leaving their employers' home. Some women have been beaten and raped by employers, and some have fallen to their deaths while washing windows in high-rise apartments. Singapore's Ministry of Manpower says 36 maids have suffered fatal falls since 1999 - 10 of them suicides. Indonesia's government puts the number of falling deaths at 43. While maid abuse is a punishable offense, mistreated maids often do not know where to turn for protection.

Between January and June 2001, about 2600 foreign workers went to Ministry of Manpower [MOM] to report that their employers had not paid their salaries or overtime pay, or had made unauthorised deductions from their pay.

Foreign maids are required to take a pregnancy test every few months and are deported if the test is positive.

Indonesia in July temporarily banned its citizens from going to work in Singapore as laborers, saying more protections were needed. However, the ban was not enforced and is no longer in place.

400 complaints a month by Foreign Workers

There are more then 500,000 foreign workers here, including more than 140,000 FDW. The Manpower Ministry receives about 400 complaints a month from foreign workers due to abusive and exploitative employers and employment agencies. The abused foreign workers can request the foreign workers' unit in the Manpower ministry's labour relations department to resolve disputes with employers. Some employers and employment agencies mistreat and abuse their foreign employees, through physical abuse, breach of previously agreed terms and conditions, and the lack of proper basic amenities like housing.

Source: Straits Times 09-Jan-2001,

Foreign Workers camp in airport

16 Blangladeshi workers stayed in the airport for three days. Their employer had failed to settle a labour dispute with the workers on 19 July. The employer Leo Tra ann Con, a sub-contractor and their agent, claimed they to send the workers back as the company was closing down. The workers were unhappy with the final setttlement offered at the airport and would not accept the amount offered. So they staye for three day until their claim was settle. The workers claimed they were owned between $1,000 and $2,500.

Source: The New Paper 28 July 2001

Construction workers left in the lurch

On the site of an unfinished factory in Tuas, twenty five men from China are waiting for their employer, Wei Sin Construction to pay the salaries owing to them. Rejecting Wei Sin's offer of an air ticket and $2050 each the workers insisted on the three months' salary: "We just want to get the money owed to us and then we can all go back home."

By June this year, 25 construction firms had filed for bankruptcy, according to figures from the Insolvency and Public Trustee's office.

Source: Straits Times, 19 August 2001

Maids molest

Newspaper reports revealed that in the last two years [1999-2000], at least four men were jailed, some even caned, for molesting their maids. At least an equal number were accused but acquitted of molesting maids during that same time. Some claimed to have been molested by their male employers. Others after willingly having sex with their male bosses and becoming pregnant seek advice. Sometimes, the maid does not complain after she is molested as she takes the money offered by the male boss to keep quiet. The police do not have a breakdown of the number of cases of employers accused of molesting their maids.

Source: Straits Times 14-Mar-2001

Contractor acquitted of maid molest

25 April 2001 - Mr Teo See Beng, 32, a contractor was acquitted of six sex charges against his young Indonesian maid. He was acquitted of all the charges: two were for having unnatural sex with the 19-year-old maid, three were for molest and one for exposing himself to her. The alleged incidents took place in February and April 2000. The maid agency on hearing the abuse had taken the maid to her embassy and make a police report. In his judgment , District Judge See Kee Oon said that, after evaluating the evidence, he had serious doubts about the complainant's credibility. The judge said her testimony was riddled with inconsistencies.

Souurce: Straits Times 26-Apr-2001

MAID ABUSE: Around 208 maids run away In 2000, a total of 208 maids went missing and less then 100 were found and repatriated. About 125 of the employers involved forfeited the $5,000 security bond because they failed to locate the missing maids and repatriate them. In 1999, the number of maids who went missing was 268.

The reasons for running away varies from: not used to the food, to the family, to the workload, feel sick, isolated and alone; not being paid, deprived of food, medical care and rest; and others may have been raped or molested. The number of maids running away to seek help varies from month to month between 30 in June 2000 to about 80 in March 2001.

The employer's stand to lose $5,000 security bond when a maid rans away. Under the existing rules, employers who hire foreign workers from non-traditional sources, including maids, must post a $5,000 security bond. They forfeit it if they fail to repatriate the worker after his or her work permit is cancelled.

Source: Straits Times 21-Apr-2001, Sunday Times 29-Apr-2001

Maid abuse: pours hot water on maid 19 April 2000, Zahara Lateef, 39, poured a jug of hot water on Indonesian maid Titik Rinawati, 19, burning her back and chest. A day before that, she had slapped her maid and pushed her while she was walking down the stairs.. Miss Rinawati worked for eight months with Zahara. 5 December 2000, Zahara was sentenced to two months' jail.

Source: Straits Times 06-Dec-2000

Maid abuse: burn and hit with slippers August and September 2000 Miss Mani Nagavalli, an 18-year-old maid was made to squt and stand 100 times with her hands crossed over her chest, holding her ears, as punishment for not doing her work properly. The maid was kicked in the stomach for not cleaning the dining-room floor and a chair properly. For not folding the clothes to satisfaction the woman hit her employee on her right hip with the handle of a badminton racket. On another occasion, she used a broomstick handle to hit Miss Nagavalli for not adding salt and tumeric powder to a Cabbage dish. The maid was also told repeatedly to burn herself with a heated ladle for not cleaning a container, which had flour on it.

10 Juky 2001, financial controller Vaidehi Rajagopalan, 37, was sentenced to four months in jail on four charges of maid abuse and two of criminal intimidation. Vaidehi is appealing and is out on $20,000 bail.

Source: Straits Times 11-Jul-2001

Maid abuse: diary of 'mistakes'; pull ears, squat and stand

For more than two months, a couple repeatedly caned and pinched their Indonesian maid , Ms Suprapti, 27. They also made her keep a diary on what she did every day, how she took care of their five-year-old daughter and any mistakes she committed in her work. She had to read the entries aloud. She also had to pull her ears, squat and stand repeatedly and say 'sorry' several times when she did not trim her fingernails. Ms Suprapti, kept quiet as she did not want to lose her job but after about three months she ran away from the abuse. Ms Suprapti started work in March 1999 and ran away on June 11, 1999.

The District Judge Adab Singh rejected the couple's defence that the 13 bruises and four abrasions found on the maid's body were self-inflicted, as medical evidence showed she had been assaulted. 21 July 2001 a district court convicted Ms Suprapti employers, Lim Chuan Huat, 42, and his wife, Tan Suan Kheng, 34, both are out on $7,500 bail.

Source: Straits Times Interactive 22-Jul-2001

Woman jailed for burning, hitting maid

28 September 2001, Beautician Lim Joon Lan, 48, who burned her Indonesian maid, Miss Sistianah, 27, with a hot iron and hit her with a bucket and a pole was sentenced to six months' jail 2001.

Jan 10, she hit her on the face with a pail after becoming angry with her . Two days later, she scolded the maid for not using the proper equipment to clean the kitchen windows, and then hit her on the knee with a clothes pole. Jan 14, Miss Sistianah was ironing clothes when Lim accused her of being too slow. When the maid protested, Lim pushed the iron towards her face, the victim lifted her left forearm to defend herself, suffering a burn near her elbow. The police received a call from a woman the next day reporting that a maid was crying in the void deck of the housing block. When police arrived, they found bruises on her face and arms, and a burn mark on her left forearm.

Source: Straits Times 29 September 2001

CJ triples jail term of maid abuser

1 November 2001, Farida Begam Mohamed Artham, 27, a housewife who hit her maid with a slipper and the wooden handle of a scrubbing brush had her three-month jail term tripled. The beatings happened on Aug 30, 1999, two months after Indonesian Khusniati Habib, 20, began working for the family at their flat.

Farida Begam pick up a scrubbing brush, she used the handle to strike the maid on her stomach, back, shoulder and head. She then used a slipper to hit her on her face, cheeks and forehead four or five times. She suffered extensive bruises.

Chief Justice Yong Pung How said violence against maids had to be stopped. Such abuse was giving Singapore a 'very terrible reputation' and foreign embassies had complained about it.

Sources: Straits Times 02-Nov-2001

It's jail, not fine, for maid abuser

Businesswoman Chong Siew Chin, 43, assaulted her maid, Miss Bonasih Sarmo, 23, and told her to say she had fallen in the toilet if anyone asked her about the marks on her face. She was slapped twice in the morning and one in the evening on July 24, 1999. Chong was quick to assault the victim for minor reasons.

Chong Siew Chin was fined $4,500 for slapping her Indonesian maid but will now go to jail for 12 weeks instead. Chong, who lost her appeal against conviction and sentence, will get back the $4,500 in fines she paid in May

Chief Justice Yong Pung How increased the employer's sentence for maid abuse as he noted that the number of offences against maids had risen.

Source: Straits Times 09-Nov-2001

Since 1996, at least 27 maids have died from falls

Jan -June 2001 has seen at least three accidents of maids falling from a high building while cleaning windows resulting in the deaths of maids. 27-Jun-2001, a 21-year-old Indonesian domestic worker was in critical condition in hospital after falling seven storeys from her employers' flat.

April 2000, Ms Winarti, 23, a Indonesian maid who was staying with her agent, fell from a kitchen window from 11 storeys, apparently trying to take in a clothes pole. She died from injuries. In 1999, six foreign maids died this way and in 1998, there were eight similar cases. According to the police reports, nine maids fell in 2000 while performing household chores, while eight fell in 1999. Of the eight, six died while two were seriously injured. Since 1996, 27 maids have died from falls. The employers were investigated but none have been given a police warning.

In the past 30 months, 43 Indonesian maids had fallen to their deaths while attempting to clean windows and other fixtures in high-rise buildings. Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) says that 21 maids had fallen from high-rise buildings since 1999 and it did not have a breakdown by nationality. Indonesian Embassy spokesman said 12 Indonesian maids had died in falls from Jan to July 2001.

December 1999, the Manpower Ministry issued an information kit suitable for each foreign domestic worker in her own language, on safety precautions when cleaning windows and doing other chores.

The ministry also wrote to all employers, telling them to keep safety in when asking maids to do hazardous household chores. There is also a video highlighting potential hazards in the home, especially the cleaning of windows in high-rise blocks. Among the tips given: Lock window grilles before cleaning windows, do not stand on chairs, and do not take unnecessary risks by climbing out of windows to retrieve fallen items. The video, which is available in English, Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia and Sinhalese, is available at employment agencies and embassies.

Source: Straits Times 17 April 2000, 13-Apr-2001, 26 June 2001, 27 June 2001, 19-20 July 01

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