Most Singapore foreign domestic workers exploited, survey says

Domestic workers picnic in a park in Singapore March 19, 2017.

Story highlights

  • New report shed lights on working conditions for maids in Singapore
  • Cities and countries across Asia and the Middle East have large population of domestic helpers

(CNN)One woman had her pay docked for cutting tofu wrongly, while another said she was forced to sleep in front of her employer's toilet.

These accounts from foreign domestic workers in Singapore feature in a new report that suggests some 60% of maids in the city state are exploited by their employers.
    The women, who are primarily Filipinos and Indonesians employed as housekeepers and child minders, reported low pay, little time off work and verbal and physical abuse.
      Almost 800 domestic workers and 80 employers were interviewed as part of the report from independent consultancy Research Across Borders entitled "Bonded to the System."
      Singapore's Ministry of Manpower said the study was misleading and used an "overly simplistic interpretation of the International Labour Organisation's indicators of labor exploitation."
      The ministry added that the study didn't consider the "unique nature" of domestic work, saying that work and personal time "cannot be easily differentiated."
        Remittance companies in Singapore's Lucky Plaza mall, a place popular with Filipino domestic workers for its restaurants and companies offering remittance services.

        Privacy, freedom

        If the survey is representative of Singapore as a whole, more than 140,000 maids in Singapore might be employed in exploitative conditions, the report said.
        "We leave our families apart just to work hard and save money," one worker who participated in the study said. "But we just need some privacy (and) freedom, not for a week but for a day only.
        At least 90% of the workers surveyed reported working excessive hours or days, while more than a third said they either had bad living conditions or low to no salary. Of those interviewed, 84% said they worked more than 12 hours a day and 41% said they were made to work on their single rest day.
        Some said they were forced to massage their employer. A third said they were monitored by surveillance cameras.
        Research Across Borders Director Anja Wessels told CNN she was "shocked" by the extent of the report's findings, saying they reflected only "the tip of the iceberg."
        "These women mainly endure these situations out of economic stresses ... in one third of the cases in our study, the worker was the only bread winner in their family, which means if they do not work and send money back home, they will threaten the survival of their family," she said.
        A large number of cities and countries across Asia and the Middle East have domestic helpers in their homes to assist with daily tasks, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
        In Asia, Singapore is second only to Hong Kong for having the largest number of documented foreign domestic workers employed in their country, typically young women from Indonesia and the Philippines.