Violence Against Domestic Workers

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Violence against domestic workers includes verbal abuse, physical abuse and labour exploitation.

Labour exploitation is treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work. Some examples and signs of labour exploitation are included below.

Examples and Possible Signs

1. Verbal abuse: threats, insults, vulgarities being hurled at them constantly, sexually loaded insults.
2. Overwork: forced to work for long hours without break, not given rest day
3. Food issues: not given enough food, constantly hungry and employer constantly rejects requests for more food.
4. Salary issues: Not being paid on time (7 days after the expected pay day), withhold salary by employers, salary deducted because of “poor performance”
5. Physical abuse: being physically abused by employers
6. Verbal abuse: threats, insults, vulgarities

The signs above are not exhaustive, if you feel that you are/ someone is being abused or  exploited you can call organisations such as HOME and speak to the case workers.

What can I do to prevent similar scenarios from occurring?

Foreign Domestic Workers are strongly encouraged to sign an employment contract (and keep a copy) covering:

1. Salary
2. Placement Loan
3. Number of rest days per month
4. Compensation in lieu of rest day
5. Notice period
6. Compensation in lieu of termination notice

What can I do if I am experiencing/know an FDW experiencing similar scenarios?

If you are being abused or ill-treated / suspect that an FDW is being abused or ill-treated, you can:

  • Report it to the Police. Police will assess all complaints of abuse and initiate criminal investigations if an offence is disclosed. If convicted, employers face severe penalties under the law and may be permanently banned from employing another FDW by MOM
  • Call the FDW Helpline (1800 339 5505) to speak to an MOM officer.

FDWs can also seek help from many non-governmental organisations that provide shelter and helplines.

Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (HOME) 1800 7977 977 Provides: physical help desks to offer advice on rights and options, crisis shelter, legal aid
Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) 1800 2255 233 (24h) Provides: advisory services on employment matters and legal clinics
Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) 1800 339 4357 (24h) Provides: befrienders service, free mediation, pro-bono legal assistance
How can friends and family support the victim?

Family members at home country:

  • Family members can report cases of violence towards foreign domestic workers to their local maid agency and make a report to MOM through their FDW Helpline (1800 339 5505).

Friends and Witness:

  • Provide the victim with a listening ear if they appear to be willing to share. Try and understand the situation they are facing.
  • Encourage the victim to seek medical attention and remind the victim to gather evidence should they want to pursue a legal charge. However, it is important that you do not make decisions for them/force them to make decisions.
  • Let the victim know of the available options and how they can seek help and legal advice.
How can I seek legal help?

There are many organisations providing free legal aid for foreign domestic workers who will need legal advice.

HOME Legal Clinic Walk-in registration only Second and fourth Fridays of each month, 6pm to 8pm
Centre for Domestic Employees Legal Clinic Walk-in registration only First and third Saturdays of each month, 12pm to 2pm.
AWARE Appointment needed For women earning less than $3000/month, second and fourth Thursday of each month
Jamiyah Legal Clinic Appointment needed Wednesdays, 6pm – 7pm, and Saturday, 3pm – 5pm.
Singapore Statistics

According to a research study (Wessels, Ong, & Daniel, 2017), out of the 735 FDWs surveyed only one-third said that they were employed in work conditions where there is no reported exploitation or coercion by their employer. However, the majority of the workers (60%) were identified as being exploited.

  • 23% of the workers were identified as victims of forced labour, a form of labour exploitation with both exploitative and coercive elements.
  • 10% of the surveyed FDWs were being identified as being trafficked (through deception and/or coercion) into their current exploitative employment.

The top 5 issues reported: Verbal abuse, Overwork, Food Issues, Salary, and Phone restrictions. Meanwhile, physical abuse was ranked the 13th most reported issues with 125 cases being reported in 2018 (HOME, 2018). As reported by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME, 2020), these issues were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and the implementation of the circuit breaker measures as FDWs were faced with increased isolation.

In 2018, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Low Yen Ling mentioned that the MOM received an average of 600 complaints a year regarding FDW salary issues in the past three years (The Straits Times, 2018).