This article is to respond the piece on Strait Times dated May 8, 2018 titled: “ New $ 6,000 performance bond for Indonesian maids ‘unnecessary’: MOM”
Approximately 120,000 Indonesian citizens in Singapore work as domestic workers. This number continues to increase over the year as the demand of domestic workers in Singapore continues. With this huge and significant number, Indonesian Embassy, being the sole representative of the country in Singapore, has been mandated by the government to protect its citizens, particularly the migrant workers. There have been many policies stipulated by the Embassy, among others are the minimum monthly salary of SGD $ 550, 4 off days per month, allowing the domestic workers to perform prayers at home, and provide decent meals for the helpers.
Albeit the efforts taken by the Embassy, the number of misconducts and abuses from the employers has yet to stop. In 2017 alone, the Embassy handled 1,579 cases of migrant workers, including the salary that is not paid for months and even years, sexual and/or physical abuses, working up to 19-20 hours per day, the restriction to exercise religious prayers, etc. in the first quarter of 2018 (up to May 10, 2018), the Embassy already received 571 domestic workers whom flee to seek help to the Embassy with various aforementioned cases.
This number is believed to only reflects the tip of the iceberg. Indonesian domestic workers, being known as less demanding than other workers, are mostly reluctant to report the misbehave and abuses done by the employers. They tend to stay in silence and say nothing. They will seek for help if the case is extreme and threaten their lives. This fact is supported by the report from independent consultancy Research Across Border Australia entitled: “Bonded to the System. Labour Exploitation in the foreign domestic work sector in Singapore” issued in November 2017. In the report that involved almost 800 workers, and 80 employers, it is suggested that “Indonesian workers might be more likely to suffer abuse in silence - and when they flee their employer they usually have extreme cases to report. This might imply that Filipino FDWs’ help seeking behaviour is regardless of extent or severity of abuse, compared to Indonesians who might report only severe cases of mistreatment”.
In addition, the report also indicates that Indonesians are more likely to work more than 12 hours daily, to have less than a weekly rest day and not receive a payment in-lieu for working on their rest day. Some also reported to have bad living conditions manifested in the form of living accommodation. The report states that in the interview, two Indonesian FDW respondents reported sleeping on the front balcony, and in front of the toilet respectively.
These severe conditions are exacerbated by very few protections for the domestic workers working in Singapore. The report indicates that, “unlike Hong Kong, Singapore doesn’t guarantee a minimum wage for maids and guidelines on working hours only call for a ‘reasonable workload’. Thus, there is a so-called flexibility and space given to the employers to haphazardly determine the salary of their domestic workers and to ask the workers to work even up to 20 hours per day without off days. Singapore government also allows the direct hiring mechanism, in which the employers or maid agencies can directly contact the prospective domestic helpers and hire them without going through the legal procedures in Indonesia. This mechanism is against the Indonesian laws and regulations and will put the employers and the FDWs in a more difficult position when they are in trouble; as the Indonesian government will not have their database. Unfortunately such practises still persist in Singapore.
Furthermore, in many cases that involve the Ministry of Manpower of Singapore, like the cases of domestic workers being not paid for months and/or years, and domestic workers who work in more than 1 house, the completion time of such cases can take up to 2 years, as experienced by a domestic worker who has to reside in the shelter of the Embassy for 2 years, without any opportunity to work and without any compensation to pay off the 2 years waiting time.
It is therefore urgent and obligatory for Indonesian Embassy in Singapore to protect and to ensure the wellbeing of Indonesian Domestic Workers in Singapore. In April 2018, the Embassy came up with the policy to issue a Performance Bond for the new domestic workers and the existing domestic workers with high risk of abuses. This PB will be attached to the Employment Contract issued by the Embassy and will adhere to the clauses stipulated in the EC. The clauses of the EC were already being informed to the MoM along with the terms and conditions of the PB earlier. The premium of Indonesian Embassy PB is not more than SGD $ 75 (including GST-the amount may slightly varied depend on the insurance agencies) for 2 years period, or as little as SGD $ 3 dollar per month; cheaper than the price of your breakfast set in any Singaporean traditional coffee shops.
It is then NOT FAIR to say that “the Embassy does not need to show that you have done anything wrong to forfeit the bond” (as written in the May 8 article). The clauses are very clear, among others: the minimum salary of SGD $ 550 per month, 3 nutritious meals per day, the rights of domestic workers to hold its own passport and work permit, the permit from employer to conduct religious prayer, the obligation for the employers to pay for medical check up and medication expenses, and the prohibition for FDWs to carry out work that might risk their lives (i.e: hanging clothes in high rise building or clean the window exterior). As informed and explained earlier to MoM, Indonesian Embassy will not recklessly and automatically forfeit the bond, shall there be any breaches of the clauses. The Embassy will conduct mediation between both parties; and for any cases that involve police or MoM; the mediation will take place after the decision/verdict is issued (either by court, police or MoM). The Performance bond WILL ONLY BE THE LAST RESORT if after mediations, the employer is not cooperative.
So, while the MoM stated that the Performance Bond is not necessary, the Embassy will remain firm to its stance, that in order to protect the vulnerable ones, the Indonesian Domestic Workers; the Performance Bond is URGENTLY NECESSARY.