6 out of 10 maids in Singapore are exploited: Survey

6 out of 10 maids in Singapore are exploited: Survey

maids singapore
Domestic workers in Singapore (File photo: TODAY)

SINGAPORE: Six out of every 10 foreign domestic workers in Singapore are exploited by their employers, according to a recent survey, with the helpers citing bad living conditions, excessive working hours, deduction of salary and violence.

The survey, conducted by independent consultancy Research Across Borders, involved both foreign domestic workers and employers.

Among the 735 Filipino and Indonesian respondents, the majority of workers at 60 per cent were identified as exploited, with 23 per cent identified as victims of forced labour that involved threats, control, leverage or force.

Only one-third of the workers did not report exploitation or coercion by their employers. 

Many respondents also reported having to use their own money to pay for meals and other essentials that should be provided by their employer by law.

Maid agency in Singapore file
A maid agency in Singapore (File photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

Singapore is one of the largest destination countries for foreign domestic workers in Southeast Asia, with 243,000 such workers. This is Hong Kong, which has 336,000 documented foreign domestic workers.

However, these domestic workers in Singapore are in a vulnerable position due to lack of adequate work regulations and legal protection, and the systemic nature of their employment conditions, the report said.


The report cited one-sided conditions that would result in “grossly unequal power relations” between maids and their employers.

For example, foreign domestic workers are the only group of migrant workers in Singapore that are excluded from the Employment Act, on the basis that domestic work is unique in nature. Instead, they are covered under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

These conditions could potentially harm foreign domestic helpers as they would not be able to receive adequate legal protection or medical coverage, the report said.

Helpers who did not have their own room reported sleeping in storage and living rooms. One respondent said that she slept on the front balcony, while another said that she slept in front of the toilet.

A 24-year-old Indonesian maid had her salary deducted because her employer said she cut tofu “wrongly”.

Main injuries survey
A foreign domestic worker shows her injuries caused by her former employer. She was burned on her arms with metal utensils heated on the stove as a form of punishment. (Photo: Bonded to the System / Tom White)

Another major area of coercion included surveillance and sexual, physical and psychological violence, including biting, scalding and slapping.

One in four domestic helper reported experiencing violence from employers, while 37 per cent reported that there were surveillance cameras in their home.

According to the Singapore state courts, 26 cases of abuse against domestic helpers were filed in 2014 alone, compared with 90 cases of maltreatment towards domestic workers between 2010 and 2015.

In September, a woman was convicted of hitting her maid with a hammer, bamboo pole and stole pestle, among other household items, causing the worker permanent disfiguration. 

Another was fined S$15,000 for not paying her maid's monthly salary for about a year, which amounted to about S$5,700. 


The report said these findings are alarming, and only “the tip of the iceberg”.

Many domestic workers also reported having to work on their off days, saying that they were instructed to do housework and cook breakfast for their employers before they could leave the house. They also reported having a curfew of 5pm to 6pm.

“How you can consider that Sunday is off day? Please be good to us also. We are humans, not robots,” one respondent said.

A maid housed at a local non-governmental organisation shelter for foreign domestic helpers in crisis situations. (Photo: Bonded to the System / Tom White)

Foreign domestic workers make up 7 per cent of Singapore’s total and 17 per cent of the foreign workforce, with an estimated one in three households reliant on them for housekeeping and caring duties.

Fifty-six per cent of them are from Indonesia and 32 per cent from Philippines, while the rest are from Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

They come to Singapore to work for economic reasons, to support their family back in their home country, to send their children to school and/or to save for the future.

Source: CNA/kc