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Manpower Ministry tells agencies to treat maids with respect

In an advisory sent to maid employment agencies, the Manpower Ministry says agencies should “accord foreign domestic workers (FDWs) basic respect and human dignity”.

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday (July 16) sent an advisory to employment agencies (EAs) in the wake of recent media reports on the treatment of foreign domestic workers in Singapore.

In the advisory, the ministry cautioned agencies to ensure that all advertising collaterals “accord foreign domestic workers (FDWs) basic respect and human dignity”. MOM also reiterated that it is unacceptable for agencies to display FDWs in an “undesirable manner” which gives the impression that FDWs are “commodities to be ‘tested’ or traded”, including the mentioning of fees.

However, employment agencies can continue to communicate the full schedule of their fees and policies to prospective clients upon their request. 

Since the warning was issued, some agencies were spotted taking down posters which emphasised low fees or discounts. Agencies Channel NewsAsia spoke with said the advisory would not affect their business strategies. One of them is Homekeeper, which an Al Jazeera report says treated its workers like "commodities", although MOM says it has found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"For us, we don't need to take much action, because all along, our marketing strategy is that we do not advocate price wars," said Homekeeper's General Manager Mark Chin. "We will tell the customers what we can provide (in terms of) the different types of training."

Some agencies have also welcomed MOM's advisory, saying that it creates a level playing field. "It's fair competition for all the maid agencies in Singapore," said Flora Sha, Bukit Timah Branch Manager at United Channel Employment Agency.

Other than insensitive advertising, agencies are also not allowed to display workers in an undesirable manner, such as having them sit outside their offices. 

Since the advisory was issued, MOM officers have been on the ground to check that employment agencies are adhering to the rules. Action will be taken against agencies which fail to comply, MOM added, which include penalties such as demerit points. Uncooperative agencies may also have their licences suspended or revoked.

"MOM proactively audits Singapore employment agencies," said an MOM spokesperson, "and those found to have acted in a manner detrimental to the interest of the FDWs, will be dealt with in accordance to the Employment Agencies Act.

"EAs which flout Sec 11(1)(c) of the EA Act, which states that an EA should not act in a manner likely to be detrimental to the interests of its clients, may be issued demerit points. Recalcitrant EAs may have their licences suspended or revoked."

The Association of Employment Agencies says the advisory is long overdue. Its president K Jayaprema said "Every EA will definitely take it very seriously, because it's not just an advisory to tell them 'We advise you to be mindful and follow certain ways of managing your business'. You can see that they have spoken of legislation. They have to conform to what MOM has requested for. So we are definitely going to see a lot of improvement in the industry."

The advisory, signed by Ms Penny Elaine Yapp, Deputy Director of the Foreign Manpower Management Division and Deputy Commissioner for Employment Agencies at the Ministry of Manpower, is reproduced in full below:

Dear Key Appointment Holders and EA Personnel,

We are concerned by incidences of insensitive advertising and inappropriate display of FDWs by EAs.

Insensitive Advertising by EAs

We understand that advertisements indicating very low agency fees are sometimes used among FDW-placing EAs to attract prospective employers. However, these advertisements which emphasise cheap fees, promotional rates, and/or discounts inadvertently give the impression that the FDWs are being marketed as merchandise. EAs should ensure that all advertising collaterals accord FDWs basic respect and human dignity.

EAs should therefore refrain from all forms of public advertising (eg on shop fronts and websites) that casts FDWs in an undignified light. EAs’ advertisements should not make any mention of fees or liken FDWs to merchandise that can be purchased and replaced when found unsatisfactory. The Ministry considers such practices unacceptable. EAs can however continue to communicate the full schedule of their fees and policies to prospective clients upon their request.

Inappropriate Display of FDWs

While we understand that the presence of FDWs at EAs’ premises is aimed at facilitating job matching between the FDWs and prospective employers, displaying FDWs in an undesirable manner (including having them sit outside EA premises) reinforces the impression that FDWs are commodities to be “tested” or traded is unacceptable to the Ministry.

The Ministry considers the practices listed above as potentially detrimental to FDWs, who are ultimately EAs’ clients. The Commissioner of Employment Agencies has grounds to take action against EAs with such practices under Section 11(1)(c) of the Employment Agencies Act which states that an EA should not act in a manner likely to be detrimental to the interests of its clients.

EAs should therefore cease the above unacceptable practices with immediate effect. The Ministry will take action against EAs which persist in such undesirable practices.

Please contact us at Tel: 6438 5122 or email: if you require any clarification.

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