Domestic helpers rally in support of an Indonesian maid who was tortured by her employers
Protest for rights of domestic workers Reuters

Singapore is working hard to make the lives of maids and domestic helps better and to ensure that they do not face exploitation at the hands of ruthless employers.

Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), a voluntary welfare organization that takes care of the interests of Foreign Domestic Workers (FDW) provides counseling, shelter and assistance to maids who have come to the city-state to earn a respectable living.

An Indonesian maid had recently sought assistance through a friend from the organization after her job led her to depression. Now, she is being counselled and is doing much better, reports The New Paper.

On its completion of two years, the CDE is increasing its shelter capacity to 200 and has also planned a skills certification course for domestic helps. According to an annual report, it has given shelter to 141 affected maids in 2017, compared to 110 in 2016.

Pay disputes

The main issue afflicting FDWs is pay disputes with their employers. Often, maids seek shelter with the organization while the dispute is being resolved. According to reports, out of 607 cases last year, majority were of pay disputes.

CDE has successfully recovered $113,668 from employers since 2016, including the ones who were withholding payment for 'safekeeping'. If the average salary is considered $600, this represents almost 190 maids who were unpaid.

However, CDE Chairman Yeo Guat Kwang has said that there are still several cases that go unreported or unresolved as maids do not know how to seek help.

"We have to educate FDWs to come to us early. We have seen cases where by the time we are aware, the employers may already be in financial difficulty," he said, as reported by TNP. The CDE has recovered close to $15,000 in one case.

Proper education

The CDE stated that proper education in these matters must be provided to domestic workers so that they are aware of their rights. If a maid undergoes a salary dispute, the organization provides all kinds of assistance and shelter until it is resolved.

"Many maids do not know that there is a scheme to allow them to change employers if they face a salary dispute," says Yeo.

In addition to legal assistance, the CDE also offers training and certification courses to maids who seek shelter there. SkillsFuture Singapore and NTUC Learning Hub are its partners in this initiative.

To reduce monetary disputes, the organization encourages employers to pay the workers online, through e-payments. They are also seeking the Government's assistance to make 'safekeeping' of FDWs' salaries illegal.

Currently, CDE has five offices, including at City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza. They plan to open another office in Lucky Plaza soon.

Documented cases

Apart from cutting payment, maid torture is common in Singapore, especially with foreign domestic helps. In November last year, an Indian-origin former army Warrant Officer was convicted of abusing and beating her Indian maid. She was given four months and three weeks of jail term.

Another maid from Myanmar was subjected to severe torture by her employers in Singapore, including pouring boiling water on her and making her drink water mixed with floor cleaner. She was also beaten on several occasions.

Another couple was accused of inflicting physical abuse and torture on their Indonesian maid, for which they have been convicted after a 17-day trial. The couple had reportedly abused their maid with weapons such as a hammer, stone pestle, pounder, chopper, and a bamboo pole, leading to permanent scarring and disfiguration.

Hence, it is a known fact that foreign domestic workers in Singapore, who arrive at the city-state with hopes of a better life, need assistance so that their rights and security are taken care of.