Singapore's foreign maids exploited by agents, employers

Tue May 26, 2015 9:22pm EDT
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By Astrid Zweynert

SINGAPORE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The promise of a salary five times what she could make at home prompted Nabila to leave Indonesia and her family for a job as a domestic worker in Singapore.

What she did not realize was that it would be eight months before she earned a cent because of deductions made by the employment agency that brought her to Singapore.

With a 17-hour working day that started at 5 a.m., a "very demanding" employer and dinners that consisted of leftovers, the 30-year-old said she was driven to despair.

"I was desperate when I realized that I wouldn't get paid for such a long time," said Nabila, whose monthly salary was S560 ($424). "I came to Singapore because I need money for my two children so that they can go to school. I need every cent."

Employment agencies are part of a complex web spun across Southeast Asia by brokers and agents that allow the domestic workers virtually no say in their working conditions.

Reports of domestic workers being burned, beaten and raped have sparked outrage in Asia, which has the largest share of the world's domestic workers at more than 21 million.

The Philippines is the only Asian nation to have ratified the International Labour Organisation's convention on domestic workers, which bans recruiters from taking money from workers' wages to recoup placement fees, among other measures.

The ILO says recruitment fees should not be charged to any worker.   Continued...