Singapore—Activist Jolovan Wham, a longtime champion of migrant workers’ rights, has written a letter to Manpower Minister Josephine Teo that has since gone viral. Mr Wham wrote the letter after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) issued an advisory on Wednesday (June 17) for domestic helpers as the country enters Phase 2 of the lifting of the circuit breaker restrictions that were put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
During Phase 1, they had been advised to stay home.
In its latest advisory, MOM said that domestic helpers should not come together in large groups during their days off. The ministry also listed “appropriate arrangements” for the helpers for Phase 2, including obtaining consent from their employers to take their rest days off during weekdays, downloading the TraceTogether app, and observing safe distancing measures.
MOM wrote, “FDWs who wish to spend their rest days outside should seek the consent of their employers to do so on a weekday when public spaces are less crowded.”
Mr Wham responded to this advisory by writing an email on behalf of the domestic workers, and published it on his Facebook page on the same day the advisory was issued, urging others to forward it to Ms Teo.
I have written to the Manpower Minister on the latest rest day advisory for domestic workers. I urge everyone to do the…
He expressed disappointment with the advisory, writing that restricting the helpers’ activities even on their days off has “worsened their already stressful lives, especially those who do not have their own rooms and private space to rest.”
He wrote, “Domestic workers spend all of their time in their employer’s homes. Since circuit breaker started, similar advisories from your Ministry forbid them from going out.”
Mr Wham added that in the job of a domestic worker, working and resting hours are not always clearly delineated, and days off, therefore, are a much-needed respite.
“As a result, domestic workers are either working or on standby for most of the day. Given such conditions, a rest day where they are free to do as they please, whether it is to socialise, take up classes, or to run errands is badly needed.”
The activist also underlined the difference between the regulations that regular Singaporeans must follow during Phase 2 in comparison to those that domestic workers are obligated to observe.
“Singaporeans and others in the community have been urged not to gather in groups of more than five, practise social distancing, and to wear a face mask at all times when outdoors. But we have not been told that we can’t leave our homes, nor have we been denied weekend rest days. The same principles should apply to our migrant domestic workers”
In the interest of eliminating discrimination, Mr Wham wrote that he hopes “the Ministry can reverse its decision on this matter.”
Mr Wham’s post has been liked over 2,000 times and shared more than 600 times. Many netizens, a good number of whom are presumably domestic workers themselves, thanked the activist for speaking up on their behalf.
Some asked why domestic helpers are being singled out this way.