SINGAPORE: A survey which concluded that six out of 10 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore are exploited by their employers paints a "misleading" picture, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in a statement on Friday (Dec 1).
The survey, conducted by independent consultancy Research Across Borders, involved both foreign domestic workers and employers.
In it, helpers cited bad living conditions, excessive working hours, deduction of salary and violence.
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.
Responding to the survey, MOM said it used an "overly simplistic interpretation" of the International Labour Organisation's indicators of labour exploitation.
"The study did not consider the unique nature of domestic work when interpreting the indicators," said the ministry.
"For example, it defined FDWs’ working hours without taking into consideration the fact that work and personal time in the context of domestic work cannot be easily differentiated."
The survey also applied "isolation" and "confinement" to include situations where a foreign domestic worker needs her employer's permission to leave the house, return before midnight on her rest day, or is not given her own set of house keys, said MOM.
"Such an interpretation of 'isolation' and 'confinement' is improper, as it has not taken into consideration the employers’ responsibility for the safety and well-being of both the FDW and family members, especially the young and the aged who require the care of the FDW," it said.
MAJORITY OF FOREIGN DOMESTIC WORKERS 'SATISFIED', SAYS MOM
The ministry also said that it conducts regular surveys to "better understand the employment conditions and well-being of FDWs here".
In its 2015 survey of 1,000 such workers, 97 per cent of respondents were "satisfied working in Singapore", 76 per cent intended to continue working in Singapore after their contract was completed, 79 per cent would recommend the country as a place to work, and 97 per cent said their workload was "either just right, or they could handle more", said MOM.
Adding that it also interviewed more than 3,000 new foreign domestic workers a year after their first few months of work, MOM said that more than 95 per cent of these said their workload was manageable and "did not raise any well-being issues".
The Research Across Borders report also pointed out that 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.
"Domestic workers, including FDWs, are not covered by the Employment Act due to the unique nature of their work arrangement. However, this does not mean that FDWs are not protected," said MOM in response.
It said that under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, employers have to ensure "prompt payment of salaries, provision of proper food, rest days or compensation in lieu of, accommodation, medical care, and safe working conditions".
"These are laws and not guidelines. Employers who violate the laws face stiff fines, jail terms, and can be banned from hiring FDWs in future," said MOM. "Under the penal code, employers who commit offences against their FDWs face penalties of one and a half times the usual punishment."
The ministry said that it had strengthened measures to improve foreign domestic workers' well-being over the years.
Examples it gave included the introduction of mandatory weekly rest days or compensation in lieu, a settling-in-programme for new foreign domestic workers to "know their rights and responsibilities" and the increase in maximum penalties for breaches of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.