SINGAPORE: The employment agent of the Myanmar maid who was tortured to death in 2016 spoke to the domestic worker twice during her first six months of employment, but did not pick up on any issues, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Wednesday (Feb 24).
In a press release, MOM said Kevin Chelvam, the husband of the woman who admitted to killing Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, had provided feedback to the agent about communications problems and the helper's work performance during her first six months of employment.
The employment agent had offered to replace her multiple times but Chelvam did not take up the offers, said MOM.
"During this period, the EA (employment agent) had spoken to Ms Piang on two different occasions but did not pick up on any issues," the ministry added.
The Myanmar national had attended the mandatory settling-in-programme on May 25, 2015, shortly after she arrived in Singapore. She began working for Chelvam on May 28, 2015. This was her first time working in Singapore.
She went for her six-monthly medical examination on Jan 19, 2016, and passed the medical examination, said MOM. She visited the same doctor in May for a runny nose, cough and swelling on her legs.
She died in July, two months after her last visit to the doctor.
"Nothing adverse was flagged to the authorities’ attention on either occasion," said MOM.
The ministry said that Chelvan and his family members had previously employed four other foreign domestic workers, adding that it has not received any complaints or adverse feedback from them.
READ: Husband of maid killer suspended from police force since 2016, accused of abusing victim and removing CCTV
Ms Piang Ngaih Don died of brain injury with severe blunt trauma to her neck in July 2016. Her employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, admitted on Tuesday to killing the maid through starvation and sustained assault.
"The Ministry of Manpower would like to express our deepest sympathies to the next-of-kin of former foreign domestic worker Ms Piang Ngaih Don," said MOM.
"At the time of her death, MOM ensured that a full insurance payout was made to the next-of-kin, consisting of the full death benefit, repatriation cost and a special gratuity payment."
It added that the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) also made a donation to her family and facilitated her brother's visit to Singapore.
In a Facebook post, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo extended her "deepest condolences" to Ms Piang Ngaih Don's family and said her team had reached out to them to provide support and will remain available for assistance.
"The Government takes the protection of foreign domestic workers seriously and will let the law run its course," said Mrs Teo.
"The suffering and death of Ms Piang should never have happened. Abuse is abhorrent, whoever the victims are. When it involves foreign domestic workers, all the more we have to act," she added.
MULTIPLE SAFEGUARDS IMPLEMENTED: JOSEPHINE TEO
Mrs Teo said multiple safeguards have been implemented over the years, such as a settling-in-programme for all first-time foreign domestic workers so that they know who they can approach for help.
Domestic workers can also call the MOM hotline or approach non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as CDE or the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST).
Employers also need to attend an orientation programme where they are educated on their roles and responsibilities.
READ: Commentary: Why a respectful relationship between foreign domestic workers and employers is in everyone’s interest
Mrs Teo added that MOM also works closely with an extensive network of NGOs who engage and look out for the workers.
"As a community of support to foreign domestic workers, we have to do better," she said.
Mrs Teo added that even as the case is tried in court, MOM's review will continue. These would include the threshold for blacklisting errant employers, as well as improving measures to detect abuse.
MOM said foreign domestic workers assessed to need more support are interviewed by CDE in their native languages. Foreign domestics workers also have to attend the six-monthly medical examination and doctors are informed to immediately refer those with signs of abuse to MOM or the police for help.
"MOM will intensify our efforts to reach out to and interview all new foreign domestic workers about their well-being, and also engage with healthcare providers to see how we can support them to identify cases of possible abuse," it said.
The manpower ministry also added that members of the public who may be aware of any ill-treatment of foreign domestic workers, or those facing employment or other issues to reach out to CDE or FAST for help.
Foreign domestic workers can also call the MOM helpline at 1800 339 5505 to speak to an MOM officer.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) said in a statement that more must be done to protect domestic workers, with "strong legislation and pre-emptive measures".
It also hopes that medical professionals who encounter domestic and migrant worker patients showing signs of abuse will "proactively take measures" such as history-taking independently of employers and flagging warning signs to authorities, medical social workers or organisations that assist migrant workers.
"Such simple steps may prevent further abuse," said HOME. "While there are existing interview mechanisms for first-time domestic workers, we believe that these checks should be done consistently, in the absence of employers, for all domestic workers."