Usually, women do a repetitive task – many places have them ironing a shirt over and over – for about 30 minutes, then switch to another task. It’s obvious they’re not learning anything. I could cradle a baby doll for hours, but that wouldn’t make me good at taking care of a real baby!
The clients seem to understand that this is just a display for their benefit – they don’t hire a domestic worker because they saw her cradling a baby doll really well. In the agencies I visited, I never saw clients talk to these women. They go to the agencies to set up interviews, and hire based on those.
In these places, they often have signs saying that maids are on sale, that kind of thing. We’ll see if that changes with the ministry’s statement. But what’s also really degrading are the names of some of the agencies themselves, like “Budget Maids” and “24-7 Maids”. Then, there’s the way the agencies describe the domestic workers– they’ll tell prospective employers that Filipinos are intelligent, or that Indonesians are not very smart but quite obedient. They don’t do this in print or on posters, just verbally.
“They’ll tell prospective employers that Filipinos are intelligent or that Indonesians are not very smart but quite obedient”
‘Live training’ is symptomatic of the way Singaporeans as a society view domestic workers. It’s not just the agencies’ fault – our laws do not provide them with adequate protection. Domestic workers are required to live in their employers’ homes, which puts them in a very vulnerable position. They need permission to leave. And often, employers will withhold their passports, works permits, or identification cards.
Moreover, they are in debt right off the bat – they typically pay between six to nine months of their salary as a recruitment fee. They can’t just leave and return to their countries until it’s paid back, so there’s an element of forced labour. Some of them find out upon arrival in Singapore that they were misled about the conditions and hours of the work they have to do. [Editor’s Note: This system is similar to the kafala sponsorship system
, practiced in many Middle Eastern countries. The FRANCE 24 Observers filmed a report
last year on how this impacted maids in Lebanon].
There have been some small victories – for example, domestic workers recently gained the right to one day off a week – but there is still a long way to go.