domestic workers in Singapore

Domestic Workers

in Singapore



suffer available beat/beat/beaten (3)
sake case (3) for the sake of
pull employer employee
take it force (2) hours on end
treat authority any longer
fund slavery to comfort
plight sponsor handle (2)
allow release permission
nasty potential shelter (2)
off day servant behind the scenes
prison earnings humiliate
expect affluent virtual (2)
sublet laundry call her own
setup grant (2) keep an eye on them
harsh diligently chopstick
abuse hardship private (2)
slum poverty grinding (2)
lullaby on offer adventure
earn manage prospective
endure promise excitement
end up bargain disciplined
maid dust (2) merchandise
mood annoyed spend time
search reliable blue/blues (3)
silly remind fall in love
afraid trial (2) file charges
option pregnant back on square one
fee ministry corner (2)
faith apply (2) convention (2)
silence criminal human rights
hope intervene take control
recover optimism dream (2)


Video: Domestic Helpers in Singapore



Analyn was beaten, kicked and humiliated. But she suffered in silence — all for the sake of her family and children back in the Philippines.

But when her employer pulled her hair out, and forced her to stand naked in the living room for hours on end, she couldn’t take it any longer.

Analyn Rinonoz, Former Domestic Worker: “I’m so saddened by it all. I really wanted to stay, but I couldn’t handle the way my boss was treating me.”

Analyn still finds it difficult to talk about what had happened to her.

She’s comforted by Bridget Tan, who opened up a shelter called Home.

It’s funded by private sponsors to help people like Analyn.

The authorities in Singapore seem to show little interest in the plight of foreign domestic workers there.

Bridget Tan, HOME Founder and President: “The employers hold their passports. Sometimes they don’t pay the salary. They do not allow them to communicate with their family.

They cannot move out; they do not have job mobility. If they need to change employer because their employer is nasty to them, they have to get a release paper — permission — from their employer to change.

If the employer doesn’t want to give them the permission, they cannot change.

So sometimes they have no option but to suffer in silence — and this is slavery-like conditions.”

Singapore is a modern, affluent city.

But behind the scenes, life can be hard for the poor and the powerless.

Over two-hundred-thousand (200,000) domestic workers have found jobs in the city.

But for many, it is a virtual prison.

Another domestic worker facing a similar plight is called Waridah.

Her earnings help feed her three children back in home in Indonesia. But she hasn’t seen them in two years.

She’s expected to be available for work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Waridah Priyanto, Domestic Worker: “I have no off days because my agency says you have no off days. They say it like that.”

There’s a tiny room for domestic servants next to the laundry room. But Waridah doesn’t even have those two square meters to call her own. A subletter is living there.

Instead she sleeps in the corner of the one of the bedrooms.

Her employer says there’s nothing wrong with that.

Lee Lei Yuk, Employer: “This is the best setup for them. We can keep an eye on them, and we can see them.”


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This is the world where women like Waridah come from. In this Jakarta slum, children who grow up here learn to endure just about everything.

Young women who want to help their families or escape the grinding poverty often end up in places like this, singing lullabies in English. It’s a training course for prospective domestic workers.

There are thousands of courses like this in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Dewi Ranti wants to earn money to help her two brothers finish school. But she also dreams of excitement and adventure.

Dewi Ranti, Prospective Domestic Worker: “Singapore has lots of culture and is very rich. It’s so clean, and the people are disciplined.”

The often harsh reality seems like a distant prospect as they diligently learn cooking vocabulary, like chopsticks and coffee maker.

Dewi Ranti is the mother of three children, and doesn’t want to believe the talk of hardship and abuse.

Meria Wati, Prospective Domestic Worker: “I would think then that my boss isn’t happy with my work. I would have to try harder and put my faith in God.

Then everything would be alright.”

Maybe Meria will be one of the lucky ones.


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Back in Singapore, we paid a visit to a shopping center. Here domestic workers are on offer. At bargain prices.

This agency promises that few of their maids are returned. The women themselves are viewed as little more than merchandise. Everywhere there are women sitting on chairs, hoping for work.

Chlen Lee Blackshaw is annoyed. She is not in the mood to spend time searching for a new domestic worker. But she wants one who is more reliable than the one she has now.

Chlen Lee Blackshaw, Employer: “She doesn’t come back until nine o’clock. And the next day, Monday, it’s always a slow day for her, you know we call it our “Monday blues”. When she is work, she will not do this, she will not do that. She will not even do the dusting.

This is Juliana, her new domestic worker. She learns about her new job. The agency representative reminds Juliana that she shouldn’t fall in love with anyone, because they won’t be able to marry.

Next year, Singapore plans to introduce a day off each week for domestic workers. That’s how it’s done in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

But Desmond Phoon, who heads the agency, says employers oppose it.

Desmond Phoon, Pratama Employment Agency: “The families are afraid that the girls will do something silly like find a boyfriend.
Journalist: “And what’s wrong with that?”
Desmond Phoon: “That’s a potential problem because the girls could get pregnant. They’d have to leave Singapore. Then the employer is back on square one. And pay agency fees to find a new worker.”

The labor ministry won’t grant an interview.

The women work for private employers. That means regular labor laws don’t apply to them.

Albert Bonasahat, ILO Coordinator for Migrant Workers: “All countries, all the member states need to follow the international conventions: International conventions related to the ILO, also international conventions of human rights.”

The authorities only intervene when the employer does something criminal. But first the woman has to file charges. And most are too afraid to do that.

Analyn is waiting for her case to go to trial.

She’s recovered some of her optimism during her stay at the shelter.

Analyn Rinonoz, Former Domestic Worker: “I’d like to go home. Maybe there I can manage to open a small shop.”

Analyn took control of her life. But she has hope. But that is not the case for many domestic workers in Singapore.


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1. All domestic workers perform normal work and have normal working lives. Is this entirely true, mostly true, yes and no, largely false or entirely false? Do they have easy lives?

2. Can abused domestic workers find refuge?

3. Is there an irony about the situation in Singapore?

4. What are some forms of abuse, human rights violations or criminal acts committed by employers?

5. Where do many or most domestic helpers come from? Where do they go? Why do they go there?

6. Do prospective domestic workers usually or often undergo training before leaving their country? Are they optimistic or pessimistic about going abroad?

7. Employers and domestic workers arrange and organize everything themselves. Is this right or wrong?

8. Are employers sympathetic towards domestic helpers? What are some complaints about them?

9. The government of Singapore has strict laws about domestic worker protection. Is this correct or incorrect?
A. My friends and I would like to become domestic workers. Yes or no?

B. Are there domestic workers in your city? Do some families employ domestic workers? Who are they? Where do they come from?

C. Are domestic workers treated fairly? How are domestic workers treated?

D. I would like to employ a domestic helper. Yes or no?

E. What will happen in the future?

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