By: Jolovan Wham
In 2014, The Straits Times reported that the Ministry of Manpower had started a feedback system which allows ex employers of migrant domestic workers to inform prospective employers if a particular worker had received any negative comments from the ex-employer. The prospective employers will be informed about it when the application is made through MOM’s Work Permit Online System. This system was established in response to an average of 200 complaints which the Ministry received every month from aggrieved employers about the behavior of their workers.
The prospective employer will not be told what the feedback is but the ex-employer filing the complaint is allowed to leave behind her contact number and email address if the prospective employer wishes to find out more. According to the article, about half of these employers provide their contact details. Anyone who still wishes to hire this worker despite the feedback will have to sign an undertaking letter that he or she is aware of the feedback and would still like to proceed with the application.
Agencies interviewed in the article reported that most employers would not hire a domestic worker if they found out that such feedback had been given to the Ministry. Orange Employment agency owner Shirley Ng said: “They won’t get a second chance to work in Singapore.” Best Home Employment agency owner Tay Khoon Beng added: “Most employers won’t even call the previous employer to find out more. They just say no.”
Domestic workers HOME spoke to were concerned that the feedback system disadvantages them. “Our side of the story is not told, it is not fair to us. I don’t even know what my previous employer said about me, so how do I respond?”” said 33 year old Idhar, who tried to file an appeal against an ex employer’s feedback about her but was not successful in getting it removed.
Filipino domestic worker Analyn Fernandez told us that she had no choice but to return to the Philippines because her prospective employer decided not to hire her after she found out that feedback about her had been submitted. “She (the employer) was actually very keen to hire me because I had the right experience and skills…but after my agent told her that my previous employer had feedback about me online, she changed her mind. My agent said she didn’t even find out what the feedback was.
Recently, HOME received a complaint from an Indonesian domestic worker that her employer owed her salary according to MOM regulations. But the worker was still penalized by MOM’s feedback system. It is not clear what criteria MOM uses to screen employers who provide such feedback, nor is it known whether the complaints are verified. By the time these complaints reach the Ministry, the domestic worker would have been repatriated.
It is not uncommon for employers in any industry to do background checks on the employees they hire by asking them for the contact details of their ex-employers, so that they can get feedback before making a decision. In fact, this is established HR practice. However, in none of these instances is the government involved because this should rightly be left up to market forces. But as this system is set up by the Ministry of Manpower, it may give the impression that the government endorses the complaints.
As it is highly possible for aggrieved employers to submit exaggerated or even false reports in order to spite a domestic worker, the feedback system can be easily abused. This will only discourage domestic workers from airing their grievances and asserting their rights.
Image source: Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wongjunhao/)
Article was first published in HOME.