15 Mar 2006

Abused maids tell of their ordeals

From the BBC
Debate about the rights of foreign domestic workers in Singapore is continuing, after authorities rejected calls for maids to be given a mandatory day off each week.

About one in six families in Singapore employs a maid

A ministry official said that changing the law would inconvenience households but a recent report from Human Rights Watch showed maids could face overwork, small food rations and the denial of social contact.

The BBC's World Have Your Say programme spoke to two Filipina women who went to Singapore to become domestic workers, but suffered at the hands of their employers.

Esther and Thona (not their real names) escaped their abusers and found safety in a house for victims called Home. They spoke to us from the refuge.

I worked every day. I didn't have a day off because it was stated in the contract that only after six months did I get my off day, and after that I would get one each month.

I worked in two houses but after five months I ran away because of insufficient food and insufficient sleep.

I worked every day from 6 o'clock in the morning to midnight but sometimes I had to get up in the middle of the night because I was also looking after a three-year-old child.

After dinner I had to wait for all the members of the family to finish their meal and then I would be allowed to eat, but only their leftovers.

They always scolded me for little things. They were very fussy and wanted everything to be perfect. I could not do the work because I didn't have enough food and I didn't have enough strength. Sometimes I received a scolding because I didn't have the strength to work.

I wanted to go out but they said they had to accompany me. I didn't have any freedom. They wouldn't let me talk to my Filipino colleagues. They didn't want me to make friends with them.

It felt like I was in a prison. I couldn't bear it any more and that's why I ran away.

Every time I looked for a new employer the pain was still there. I felt that this history was haunting me.

I am trying to move on. Here at Home I feel I have found a family but I still really miss my mother.

My employer did not treat me well. If I did a simple mistake they shouted at me, telling me bad words and sometimes they beat me.

The first time was 20 May 2005, I cannot forget it. She slapped me because I forgot to cook the porridge on time.

The second time she beat me was 30 May 2005. She pushed me in my breasts and it is still very painful.

I was upset and I said to my employer 'Why do you beat me?' and my employer said 'Why should I not beat you?'.

My employer sent me back to my agency and then I ran away.

I ran away on 17 June 2005. I went to Home. I found Home and I have stayed here in the shelter for nine months already.

I really miss my family. I don't have money to go back. I would be happy if I could go back to the Philippines, if I could reach my own country.

Singapore rejects maids' day off


rench00 said...

for every of these stories of maids being abused, there are stories of maids enjoying their employment here in Singapore and at the same time, a higher number who are ambivalent.

yes, it's unfortunate that maids are being abused, yes, something must be done, but let's not over-react, let's take a more balanced view.

Anonymous said...

how about i let you work for $1/hr for 18hrs straight?

Anonymous said...

and for 6 months straight, no going to mass, Church, make friends etc. I think I like to hire rench00 as my family's maid.

clyde said...

Most maids would be "happy" to slave away in sg I suppose because its the best of the worst jobs. Compared to their native countries, Singapore offers a higher standard of living, and a salary high enough to support families back home due to a stronger currency exchange. But surely all this does not mean we should stoop that low in the name of exploiting foreign labour... Why aren't maids given the same minimum wages, holiday allowances and workers' rights as any other sg resident? This bias itself is a reflection on society. It feeds the materialistic world's idea of a class system where those at the bottom have lesser rights and should be treated accordingly.

Personally, I despise the culture of hiring maids. This cultural dependency on domestic aid associates itself with many other problems than just maid abuse.

Anonymous said...

Labour exploitation! Modern slave-owner.

Anonymous said...

Recently there was a case where the maid who only worked for 19 days and was being forced by her employer to climb high to do some cleaning job. She fell from the unit flat and died instantly. The employer was then jailed for 2 weeks only.

Anonymous said...

I think the punishments for abusing domestic helpers is seriously a joke. Also, the conditions many work in is seriously too 'harsh'. I think our govt(people excellent in making and passing laws) should pass a law dictating working hours and conditions for domestic workers!

Matilah_Singapura said...

Slavery was a part of every great civilization.

S'pore is just making sure it conforms to some pre-designated ordering of history. If it is giong to go down for posterity, S'pore will make sure it looks GOOD ;-)

I'm ambivalent about this "maid issue". There are other countries they can choose to work in. Heck, they don't even like staying in their own countries...

I think its terrible that some people are just plain mean and nasty, but unfortunately those folks exist everywhere. Physical abuse is already prohibited by law.

But I don't think govt intervention will stop maid abuse - or even reduce it. Govt intervention sucks, and in S'pore the govt is far too POWERFUL already.

Folks, you really have to stop this addiction - everytime something goes "wrong", you automatically respond by asking for a govt "fix". You guys are like drug addicts. Stop it!

My solution: Leave things alone.

Anonymous said...

Govt wants to pamper these so-called "slave-owners". So, isn't it the govt shld do something about it then; otherwise these people don't know their limits?

rench00 said...

ya lar. fuck. if there's something wrong, why wait for the government to do something about it? go unleash death and maiming on those 'slave drivers' that you so despise la. or don't you dare to? no guts arh? bo ji arh? only dare to talk talk talk? damn NATO know.

honestly, i think Clyde made good point. so we don't allow Singaporeans to hire any maids la. ban all of them. you think the maids would be happy? oh.. but we are delivering them from slavery! it should be done! the maids and their families will starve, but they'll have dignity as human beings! not as slaves!

fuck off la.

and honestly, you really think that there aren't maids out there in Singapore who really enjoy working here? i know at least 3 families who have such maids. one of them is the maid of my close friend. she has been working for the family for close to 20 years now. when my friend first left to study in uk, she cried. when the family calls him, she'll be on the phone too.

so yes, there are problems, there are abuses, but are those the majority cases? or are those the exceptions?

and if there really is a problem, well... you fucking go solve it la. stop whining and moaning like a bitch being fucked upside down, inside out.

damn, i'm on a roll.

Matilah_Singapura said...

anon: I don't think the govt wnats to "pamper" the slave owners.

The sg.gov is not in the business of pampering anyone, except its high flying own.

If people accept the appaling working conditions as described by the BBC, then where is the problem?

Remember, the BBC is a state institution, probably full of lefties (my guess) who are always suspiciou of free markets especially in labour markets.

The world is full of anti-globalization wankers who want to dumb down individualism, selfishness and egoism.

Theses same people are also anti-consumer. They absolutely HATE individuals owning and enjoying their own property - like guns, and porno and drugs, gambling, promiscuity etc etc - and every other "victimless" crime under the sun

The market for maids is caused by the demand of consumers.

It needs one reform though: the removal of the maid levy.

No legislation required.

Laissez faire - The Consumer is Sovereign

Anonymous said...

rench00, pls mind your speech. You're a highly educated person! Shame on you who talk like this. You truly disgrace educated people in sg. Mind you this is a website.

Each and everyone has their right to give their point of view. Yours differ from mine but that does not mean you can use vulgar words to scold others like this. If you aren't happy with my views or anybody else's views, you can SHUT UP or else people can call you a dumb!!! Otherwise, pls go to other websites which share the same views as you.

How do you know I have not done anything to effect the changes in sg??? If people really have done something good, people will keep quiet and would not want to boast about it.

clyde said...

I think all those classroom hours must have built up a tension of profanity from rench! But of course that means he inevitably missed my main point.

A problem amongst a minority is STILL a problem. You should certainly know that by now if you are a vocal advocate of free speech. Simply because low wages and no minimum holidays are widely accepted by foreign labour does not mean it is morally correct.

Also consider the percentage of maids who are (a) afraid to approach the police from fear of retribution by their employer, and (b) afraid of losing their jobs altogether. Consider the hidden numbers that go unreported each year because of fear, a tool so well used in Sg these days.

If you want to go by a word-of-mouth statistic, let's just say I can quote you at least one maid who was unhappy with her job (from verbal abuse, low pay, no holidays etc) for every one of those three 'happy' maids you quoted. So at best, we can ambiguously say the ratio is 50:50. How's that.

rench00 said...

my use of language is none of your business. if you don't like to hear my profanities, you need not read them. i have the right to say whatever i want. in fact, i'm sure the people who maintain this blog would defend till death my freedom of expression, to say what i like, how i like. so there!

and if you have done something to improve maid's working conditions (above and beyond whining and moaning, either here or to the government) then good of you. well done. my comment about whining and moaning like a bitch being fucked upside down, inside out doesn't apply to you then. still, it would apply to some of the other anonymous people who comment on this blog. see... that's the problem of having anonymous commentors.

and yes. i agree that a problem is a problem, even if it only affects the minority. my point is that if there's a problem, we should be the ones to solve it, not wait for the gahmen.

further, my bringing up cases of happy maids is just to highlight that there are happy maids. and of course there'll be unhappy maids. how many of us are truly happy with our work? so perhaps it's not a 'maid' thing, but a 'i don't like my job thing' which is common across jobs.

and the question that is still unaddressed is whether the maids are better off in Singapore being maids or being back where they are, even if they complain about being maids in Singapore.

now to the crux of the problem. how to improve the working conditions of maids. i think Matilah_Singapura has a good point about the consumers. anyone thought about how we can educate the consumers? perhaps those of you who care enough about this can go think about it. what can we do, independently of the government, to solve the problem.

i am not passionate about this issue, not enough to do something about it. i've enough on my plate being a groupie to my group of dancers...

Anonymous said...

But please be reminded that whatever comments one writes, it does reflect on oneself. And this is a website, your comments will be read by the whole world. But nobody can stop you from writing anything if you feel alright to do so.

FYI, the administrator of this blog has the right and has ever deleted some "offensive" comments as he deemed fit.

Next, the reason why I somewhat defended especially those "poor" maids bec I'd ever experienced taken care of dependents by myself alone for a period of time. I truly felt how difficult it is to take care of such people. And to put myself in the shoes of others (the maids), who are foreigners coming from different culture, different language, different background, etc is even more tough a job for them in terms of physiology, psychology and emotionally. Worse still, if they do not meet understanding employers.

That is why I felt that these maids need a breather from their employer's place. They are here to earn a living and not to sell their life. Just as much as we want happiness, others also seek to have it. This is my point of view.

Matilah_Singapura said...

To rench00:

I believe in individual and self-direct action. The more we have of this, the less the power of the govt to interfere.

When people cannot get their shit together, even to agree to disagree, that gives an "opportunity" for gov to regulate. All it needs is for people to start screaming for some flaky "egalitarian value", and when they are successful, in comes the govt with all its sovereign legislative powers... once they are in, it is damn hard to get rid of them.

Not ALL govt interference is "bad". I like my govt to spoil the plans of terrorists, rapists, murderers and thieves; and also to uphold property rights and contract law.

To "educate" the public is not an easy thing, and I believe in things being left essentially alone so they arrise from the sponataneous order. What's happening now?

The maids have a golabal voice thru the BBC. Those who are charged with criminal assault or inflicing grievious bodily harm have to face the justice system, and SOCIAL OSTRACISATION. I believe in the power social ostracisation - forget all this "touchy-feely" yellow ribbon stuff.

If someone has commited a crime, justice FIRST. Mercy and forgiveness is entirely up to the choice of the VICTIM. If an ex-con wnats a yellow ribbin, he must EARN IT.

Also, a change in INDIVIDUAL behaviour. Those who treat their maids well, and well-treated maids (and we haven't heard ENOUGH from theses people) could possibly influence the thnking IF they are given a voice.

Can you "educate" consumer change? I don't know. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails.

I prefer the contract law -private property way, and keep prosecuting these SHAMEFUL PEOPLE until the message becomes "woven" into the social fabric.

e.g. before it may have been "cool" to drive drunk. Now you can't even joke about it. You'll be SOCIALLY OSTRACISED if you ge caught. The "justice" actually comes from normal individuals expressing their choice to judge and associate with one another.

Social ostracisation works great in S'pore where "not losing face" is a great negative motivator.

No govt interference necessary. As usual, the socialist-leaning BBC is wrong. All the stuff is already there. And if left alone, the free market ALWAYS delivers the the goods.

rench00 said...

i understand and admire the fact that you empathise with the maids. i agree care-takers should have time to recharge and why it is more necessary for maids, who have to leave home and work in a country where they might not even be able to speak the language, to be given that breather time.

my contention is that the fact that maids are mistreated is not a fault of the government, but the fault of the employers, i.e. a fault of Singaporeans. and the question therefore is whether we, as Singaporeans, can do anything without having to depend on the government

i agree with your point about social ostracisation. can we speed up the process?