SINGAPORE: Employers will soon be able to transfer domestic helpers to other households more easily with new rules set out by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), amid COVID-19 travel restrictions.
This comes as worldwide travel restrictions have led to limited numbers of foreign domestic workers coming into Singapore.
From Wednesday (May 20), employment agencies will be able to help employers cancel a foreign domestic worker’s work permit even if she does not have a new employer.
The agent will then be responsible for providing accommodation, food and medical insurance for the worker.
A 14-day Special Pass will be issued to the worker when her work permit is cancelled. The agency will bear the cost of repatriating the worker if a new employer is not found before the Special Pass expires.
READ: COVID-19: Entry approval, stay-home notices for all new, returning foreign domestic workers to Singapore
Currently, the former employer must pay for the worker’s living costs during the transition period even if she has already returned to the agency, and provide a letter of consent for the new work permit application.
The former employer must also pay for the worker’s trip home if her work permit is cancelled and she is not moving on to a new employer.
Employment agencies that want to take over responsibilities for foreign domestic workers during the 14-day transition period should register their interest with the Manpower Ministry by May 31, and the list of participating agencies will be available online.
Ms K Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies (AEAS) said: “We do not understand the objective of this policy, especially at this juncture. Even if you look at the current situation, employers do transfer domestic workers through employment agencies. There are existing agreements between employers and agencies … it is something that is ongoing.”
AEAS represents about 300 employment agencies, which in turn deploy more than 75 per cent of domestic workers in Singapore.
“It looks like there's no consideration that is being given to the interests or the thoughts of the domestic worker herself,” said Ms Jayaprema, noting that domestic workers might not have a say in whether they would like to be transferred to another employer.
“It looks like it's a deal that is being made between the employer and the agencies. It is all being monetised, and whoever can bear the costs makes that decision about transferring the domestic worker.”
Ms Jayaprema also said that the 14-day transition period was "very short", noting that most existing service agreements between employment agencies and employers provide for a 21-day transition period and a 7-day extension where applicable.
“We are looking at interviewing and understanding the domestic worker, putting her up on any kind of a platform, facilitating interviews, ensuring that both the employer and the domestic worker can agree on employment terms,” she added.
“Sometimes after we have gone through the whole process the domestic worker changes her mind. She might have some other offer from elsewhere. So if for whatever reason if she changes her mind and we are not able to find another suitable employer within those 14 days, then the agency is going to be disadvantaged. Definitely, 14 days is not enough to do a transfer.”
The cost of hiring a domestic worker may also go up due to the additional costs incurred by the employment agencies, said Ms Jayaprema.
“The employment agencies are expected to buy insurance. In the past, the insurance was under the current employer, so we don’t have to incur the additional cost of another insurance policy,” she said.
“All this is going to be factored in and all that is actually going to cause the agency fee to go up.”
In a notice to employment agencies seen by CNA, the Manpower Ministry advised agencies that “are unwilling to take on the responsibilities” for the foreign domestic worker not to cancel the work permit until the agency has found a new employer for her.
“Once the new work permit is issued, the current work permit will be automatically cancelled as per current practice,” said the ministry in an email sent on Friday evening.
Agencies can also advise employers to cancel the work permit themselves and send the worker home, and then help the employer with repatriation and house the worker at their boarding house, it added.
If the employer cancelled the work permit, they remain responsible for the foreign domestic worker, including the cost of her accommodation, food and medical treatment until she leaves Singapore. The employer should also pay for the cost of her flight home.