Abuse of domestic workers

FEMALE MIGRANT workers in Singapore face, what amounts to forced labour due to a lack of legal protection, US-based rights campaigners say.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said domestic workers were overworked and frequently denied food, pay and social contact, as well as suffering physical abuse. Singapore’s government said the report “grossly exaggerates” the situation.

Some 150,000 women work as maids in Singapore, mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. The report paints a grim picture of young women trapped in apartment blocks, beaten, sometimes raped, killed or driven to suicide by their employers. The authors of the report say they believe such abuse is widespread in Singapore. In the past six years, at least 147 domestic workers have died there.

Singapore’s government denies it is exploiting the maids. “On their own accord, foreign domestic workers choose to work in Singapore because of better conditions here compared to their home and other countries”.

However, foreign and domestic workers in Singapore at present have no right to any time off. As of next year, employers will be obliged to give them one day off a month or financial compensation. But the report says the women should be given the same rights as other workers in Singapore.

The authors say Singapore is by no means the worst offender in the region, but they argue that this tightly controlled city-state could improve conditions very easily, giving many thousands of vulnerable women greater control over their lives.