Singapore—Some foreign domestic workers note that tensions are arising between them and their employers amid the present Covid-19 crisis. The New Paper (TNP) reports that while some helpers would still prefer to spend their off days outside the houses where they are employed, their employers feel otherwise.
In one extreme case, a domestic helper found herself jobless after her contract was cancelled when she came home from being on leave, as her employer said they could not afford her salary if she was quarantined.
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo has said that she’s aware that some people would prefer for the Ministry of Manpower to simply mandate helpers to stay home on their rest days, but as she noted in a Facebook post last Sunday (Mar 22), “others have pointed out it does not make much sense to impose such a requirement on domestic helpers when everyone else at home is moving about and also at risk.”
Instead, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), in partnership with Centre for Domestic Employees, is urging domestic helpers to consider staying home more, meet in small groups, keep the meetings short, avoid sharing food and physical contact and practice safe distancing when taking public transport.
However, domestic helpers returning from overseas have been mandated since a March 15 announcement to observe a stay-home notice of two weeks.
Additionally, MOM said on Wednesday (Mar 25) that patrolling would be carried out at Lucky Plaza, City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza in order to break up helpers meeting in big groups. Ms Teo had said in her Facebook post that MOM’s staff, in coordination with other groups, would encourage helpers to stay home more, meet in small groups, keep their meetings short, not share food and refrain from physical contact.
She noted, “Domestic helpers should also practice safe distancing on public transport. Especially where there are elderly at home, they should be even more careful wherever they go.”
The conflict between helpers and their employers has reached the point of certain employers withholding the salaries of the helpers when they’ve spent their rest days outside their homes against the wishes of the employers, TNP quotes a representative from a migrant workers’ rights group, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), as saying.
The spokesperson from HOME also said, “It may be difficult for (FDWs) to assert their rights for fear of displeasing their employers, or getting terminated.”
TNP has also been told by some employment agencies that some helpers have even been threatened with having their work permits cancelled just to coerce them to stay home or to prevent them from going back to their native countries, especially if those countries have a high Covid-19 incidence.
The director of employment agency Workforce Manpower, Michael Khan explained that employers are concerned that they have no idea who their helpers may have encountered when they go out on their rest days.
TNP quotes him as saying, ”Employers have legitimate concerns, especially those with elderly parents or young children at home.”
But one problem with having the helpers stay home on their rest day is that they sometimes end up having to work on that day as well, and with no additional pay.
According to the executive director of the Centre for Domestic Employees, Shamsul Kamar, the Centre has gotten one-fifth more phone calls from helpers and employers on its helpline this month, in comparison with last month. —/TISG
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