The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) requires employers to provide Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) with three meals a day, enough for “a female engaged in moderate activity”, but more and more FDWs are coming forward with disturbing reports that they are not receiving adequate food from their employers.
Another media source first reported on the growing food plight of FDWs in Singapore. The concern about food and proper nutrition is one of the top five issues that FDWs have recently raised.
Local government organisations Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) reported that there is a growing number of complaints from FDWs about receiving inadequate food, or food of bad quality.
While the number of FDW cases have gone down after seeing a rise in cases involving male construction workers instead, the organisations said that they continue to receive food and nutrition complaints from FDWs.
“Our case numbers have come down over the last few years, but our social workers around four years ago reported that they were hearing more complaints from workers about inadequate food in general, such as having rice and some cheap green vegetables for meal after meal,” the TWC2 spokesperson said to another media source.
Take a look at these additional numbers:
HOME, which provides food and shelter for FDWs who need assistance, said that of the 800 women housed at their shelter, around 40 percent have raised issues about not receiving enough food, or that the food that do get is of poor quality.
The Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), which serves as NTUC’s advocacy group for FDWs, reported that around 4 percent of over 2,400 cases it has worked on since 2016 were about inadequate food complaints.
Stephanie Chok, HOME’s advocacy and communications manager, cited some of the most common food-related complaints that FDWs have brought up –
1) being given stale food
2) not being given enough food
3) being given food goes against the FDWs’ religious dietary restrictions
Chok also said that the same FDWs raising these concerns are mostly afraid to speak to their employers about the issue as they don’t want to get sacked from their jobs or reprimanded.
In some cases, employers even make noise about how quickly the food is being consumed, resulting in the FDW not feeling comfortable enough to get or ask for more food and therefore not receiving proper nutrition.
Another media source cited a few specific cases of FDWs not being given enough to eat.
Case 1: Raquel Mondarte, a 47-year-old FDW from the Philippines
Raquel’s former employer was “great” in other ways but was apparently also “very stingy with food”. Most of the time, she was not given meat or even vegetables for her meals.
Her fellow FDWs, neighbours and friends came to her rescue, donating cooked food or canned food to Raquel so she could get by. She also bought most of her own food but did not want to spend too much as she was saving her salary.
Case 2: Suri, an FDW from Indonesia
Suri works for employers who have surveillance cameras installed in their kitchen, so that they can keep track of the food that Suri is eating.
Suri said that he employers allow her to only eat certain foods. As an example, she is permitted to eat eggs, but maybe only one per day. She was also told that she is not allowed to eat fish because it is expensive.
Suri also gets questioned by her employers if she cooks but the children she cares for are not eating and if she takes food from their refrigerator. Like Raquel, she buys a lot of her own food.
MOM is very specific and strict about making sure that employers follow the guidelines on adequate food and rest that FDWs are lawfully entitled to. MOM said that employers are required to provide adequate food and fulfil all obligations relating to the well-being of the FDW, regardless of whether the employer is in Singapore or overseas.
Here is an excerpt from the MOM page on Rest days and well-being for foreign domestic worker:
“You must provide your FDW with 3 meals a day.
An example of a day’s food intake for a female engaged in moderate activity is as follows:
- Breakfast: 4 slices of bread with spread
- Lunch: 1 bowl of rice + three-quarter cup of cooked vegetables + palm-sized amount of meat (fish/poultry/beef/lamb) + fruit
- Dinner: 1 bowl of rice + three-quarter cup of cooked vegetables + palm-sized amount of meat (fish/poultry/beef/lamb) + fruit
Be sensitive to your FDW’s needs when it comes to food. Do not force your FDW to eat food that she is not supposed to or is not comfortable with. For example, your FDW may not be able to eat certain food due to her religious beliefs, or she may not be accustomed to your family’s dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian food or porridge).”
If employers do not comply with the guidelines set by MOM, serious charges can be filed and employers can be charged and even sentenced to jail.
Last year, a couple was sentenced to jail – three weeks for the husband (with a fine of S$10,000) and three months for the wife – for starving their Filipino FDW for 15 months, which caused her to lose around 20kgs.