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AM - Friday, 16 December , 2005 08:20:00
Reporter: Peter Lloyd
TONY EASTLEY: Singapore, which has had its human rights record criticised because of the execution of Australian drug trafficker, Van Nguyen, is again in the spotlight, this time over the treatment of foreign maids.
A report by New York-based Human Rights Watch says many maids in Singapore face "abysmally" long hours, "pitiful" wages and conditions amounting to "forced labour".
South East Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd reports.
PETER LLOYD: It's estimated that 150,000 women from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka are working as live-in maids in Singapore. One in seven households employs a maid so local couples with their famous work ethic can work longer hours and raise a family at the same time.
Numerous instances of cruelty and abuse are documented in a 128-page report produced by Human Rights Watch. The group released tapes of foreign maids who spoke on condition of anonymity.
VOX POP 1: Then every month I get only $10 for pocket money.
VOX POP 2: I wake up in the morning 5 o'clock am. I rest 12 or one.
PETER LLOYD: Under Singapore law, foreign maids are prevented from marrying locals or getting pregnant.
Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch says maids are denied other basic legal rights because they are excluded from the city-state's Employment Act.
NISHA VARIA: Singapore really has the capability to be doing much better than it is. Singapore has no excuse for the way that it's treating domestic workers.
I think there's two inherent problems that on a very practical level make the abuse so problematic. One is the restrictions on domestic workers' movements. You know, if they're not able to go outside of the home, if they don't have a day off, they will never be able to report abuse. And so that's one of the major problems. They're suffering all these problems and not able to get help.
The second problem is the system of indebtedness. Most of them come and they have to work four to eight months without any pay just to pay off the recruitment fees. This also puts them in an extremely vulnerable position.
PETER LLOYD: Singapore's Ministry of Manpower called the report by Human Rights Watch a gross exaggeration, insisting foreign maids are better paid than in their home country and enjoy safe employment.
That claim is at odds with statistics compiled by Human Rights Watch, that show at least 147 migrant domestic workers have died in recent years in workplace accidents, by suicide or even murder at the hands of their Singapore employer.
Peter Lloyd, AM.