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Government and Private Responses to Abuse

Response of the Singapore Government

In response to the growing evidence of abuse in recent years, Singapore has taken important steps to reform its laws and policies. Response by the Singapore government to the range of abuses described in this report includes mediation, prosecution of abusive employers, raising public awareness, and for several abuses, delegation to employment agencies and private service organizations.

The government response has included education programs for domestic workers and employers. New domestic workers must attend an orientation course which instructs them on safety procedures when cleaning windows and advises them their employer may not demand they walk on ledges or stand on chairs near windows. Employers are similarly advised. The Ministry of Manpower has also created an awareness-raising video about detecting the signs of depression among domestic workers. The English proficiency requirement introduced in 2005 is viewed as a measure to facilitate better communication between employers and migrant domestic workers.

The Singapore government prosecuted several cases of abuse in 2004 and 2005. The majority of these prosecutions involved assault and unpaid wages. These prosecutions serve as powerful messages to employers and employment agents that they could face severe penalties for abusing migrant domestic workers. One of the most publicized cases in 2005 involved an employer charged with eighty counts of abuse against her domestic worker.

In 2001, Zahara Abdul Lateef, a news anchor, was sentenced to two months in prison after pouring boiling water on her nineteen-year-old domestic worker.307 In 2002, a man who had deprived his domestic worker of food beat her to death. He was sentenced to eighteen years and six months imprisonment plus twelve lashes of the cane.308 An employer can face six months imprisonment and up to S$5,000 in fines for breaching the Employment of Foreign Workers Act.

In October 2004, the Ministry of Manpower established a new precedent by securing backwages through a criminal prosecution (see appendix D for other prosecutions for salary default). The employer, Enilia Donohue, was ordered to pay S$3,580 [U.S.$2,112] to her nineteen-year-old domestic worker who had not been paid for almost two years.309 The court also ordered Donohue to pay a penalty of thirty-five months of levy, S$12,075 [U.S.$7,547] for illegally employing the domestic worker and a S$3000 [U.S.$1,875] fine.310

While these strategies have been successful in several cases, for many domestic workers, they fail to provide relief. For labor abuses such as excessive working hours, lack of adequate rest days, and exploitative wages, there are no government avenues for redress. Similarly, government policies are responsible for some human rights violations like restrictions on becoming pregnant. The government has failed to regulate employment agencies’ practices of charging increasingly high initial loans to migrant domestic workers and setting discriminatory starting salaries based on national origin.

Important reforms—those that would ensure minimum standards of working conditions—have been thus far rejected by the government. These include amending the Employment Act to regulate hours of work, rest days, and salary deductions, establishing a minimum wage, and tackling the exorbitant debt payments exacted by labor agents. These steps are critical to prevent exploitation, mental health problems like anxiety and depression, and to provide workers with an opportunity to learn more about their rights and to seek help when they confront abuse.

The government has an obligation to legislate minimum standards, as it does for other workers, to prevent exploitation. Such regulations can be adjusted to domestic work, for example, by specifying a maximum number of work hours in a twenty-four hour period since they do not work typical business hours. Hong Kong specifies that domestic workers are entitled to at least one rest day every seven days. This rest day is a continuous period of not less than twenty-four hours during which an employee may abstain from working (see appendix B for the regulations outlined in Hong Kong’s employment contract for domestic workers). These practices not only respect the rights of these workers but recognize that rest is a critical component of competent performance.

A continuing problem is providing complaint-mechanisms accessible to migrant domestic workers, given tight restrictions on their movement. The absence of workplace inspectors or an effective monitoring system of employment agencies compounds the likelihood that many abuses never go reported at all. Poor regulation of recruitment fees and burdensome debts borne by migrant domestic workers also creates an environment where they fear reporting abuses because of the pressure they feel to repay their debts and finish their two-year contracts. The lack of rest days and freedom of movement mean that many migrant domestic workers also have limited access to their embassies, private organizations, or peers who can provide them with information about their rights and alternatives for seeking assistance.

The Ministry of Manpower refers many of the complaints that do come to its attention for mediation. These consultations typically involve a labor official from the Ministry of Manpower, the migrant domestic worker, her employer, and her employment agent. Most of the complaints handled by the mediation unit involve unpaid wages. At times, a representative of the domestic worker’s embassy will also be present.

An examination of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch and by some private service organizations show that while mediation focuses on unpaid wages, the migrant domestic worker had often suffered a range of abuses such as excessive workload, psychological abuse, and restrictions on her movement that were not addressed. Furthermore, in many of these cases, the final settlement was a compromise in which the domestic worker waived her right to part of her earnings in exchange for the ability to transfer to another employer or to hasten the case’s resolution.

The Ministry of Manpower handled 189 cases of unpaid wages to domestic workers in 2002, 214 cases in 2003, and 262 cases in 2004.311 A Ministry of Manpower official said that approximately 80 percent of these cases are resolved through conciliation involving payments, but was not able to provide information on how many cases resulted in full restitution.312 The aggregate sum of recovered wages each year has averaged S$80,000 [U.S.$50,000].313 This amount averages S$305 [U.S.$190] per case.

In many cases reviewed by Human Rights Watch, migrant domestic workers agreed to accept far less money than they were owed.  As outsiders in Singapore facing substantial financial pressures, and with little evidence to draw on in disputes but their own word (there are rarely witnesses), such workers often feel they have no choice but to accept a partial sum, a return ticket home, or permission to transfer employers.  Aid organizations also note that many employers fail to show up for conciliation hearings, prolonging the time that a domestic worker is left unemployed.

One domestic worker told us her employer borrowed money from her savings. She said, “At the Ministry of Manpower, I said, ‘I want to go home.’ I cried. I told my employer, ‘if you don’t give me the S$200 [U.S.$118] I had saved, never mind, but give me at least S$400 [U.S.$236]’….  For me it’s a lot.  I know for her it’s very little, but for me, it’s a lot….  MOM said, [a settlement of] S$200 is okay.  Next time you can find a good employer.’”314

Several problems continue to plague the criminal justice response to migrant domestic worker abuse. One problem that hampers prosecutions is the difficulty in collecting evidence in situations that often turns into one person’s word against another. Human Rights Watch reviewed dozens of cases in which domestic workers registered complaints with the police. In numerous cases, the police dropped charges against employers because they were unable to collect enough evidence to continue the investigation. Food deprivation, unpaid wages, and physical abuse such as slapping and pinching are more difficult to prove than physical assault that leaves bruises and scars.

Despite the fact some employers forbid domestic workers from leaving the house, at times locking them in, prosecutions are rare. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there were three reported cases of wrongful confinement between January and September 2005. “Of the 3 cases, one offender was warned while no further action was taken in the others as both parties did not want to pursue the matter further.”315 

Singapore law protects the right to liberty316 and along with other criminal offenses against domestic workers such as physical or sexual assault, forced confinement is subject to 1.5 times the penalty normally applied.317 Interviewees suggested the authorities narrowly define “forced confinement.” As one foreign embassy official told us: “Forced confinement is a tactics issue.  Employers say, ‘I’m not locking her up.  I didn’t force her.  For security reasons, I didn’t let her out.’  I have not known of any successful case of [prosecuting] illegal confinement.”318

Finally, migrant domestic workers must wait for several months and often more than a year for investigations and trials to conclude. Many domestic workers staying at the shelters of their embassies and in private service organizations expressed intense anxiety and frustration for having to wait so long without an income. These long waiting periods can dissuade other migrant domestic workers with complaints from coming forward because they would rather transfer to another employer or return to their home country. The Ministry of Manpower approves applications for migrant domestic workers who are abuse victims or acting as witnesses in criminal proceedings to seek new employment, but aid organizations and embassies report that such women often have difficulty finding employers willing to hire them. Others may be too traumatized and scared to find another employer.

For example, one domestic worker had been locked inside of her workplace and was mistreated by her employers for more than two years before a joint operation involving the police, the Ministry of Manpower, and an aid organization freed her. She later withdrew her statement to the police so that no criminal charges would be pressed against her employers and she could return to her family in Indonesia as soon as possible. Her retractions made her subject to allegations that she was making false complaints against her employer. Those who are countercharged with making false allegations may get blacklisted and barred from working in Singapore in the future. Bridget Lew of H.O.M.E. said that in about half of the cases she handles, the migrant domestic worker does not want to pursue a complaint with the police given the challenge of providing adequate evidence of abuse and the long waiting periods for cases to be concluded.319

A spokesperson at the Sri Lanka High Commission described another case in which a migrant domestic worker waited for one year for her case to be investigated. During this period she had no salary and became so desperate that she reached the point of attempting suicide. In the end, the case against her employer was dropped as the police concluded there was inadequate evidence to pursue it any further.320

Human Rights Watch interviewed domestic workers who had widely divergent experiences when seeking assistance from the police. In several instances, the police provided immediate help, made referrals for health care and shelter, and conducted investigations into the abuse. In severe cases of abuse, the police teamed up with the Ministry of Manpower to conduct “rescues” of domestic workers unable to leave their place of employment.

In other cases, police dismissed the complaints of domestic workers and sent them back to their employer or labor agent, very often the same individuals the domestic worker accused of abuse. An official from the embassy of a sending country said, “If girls go to them—unless there is physical evidence—they call the employer and send the girl back to them.  Very rarely do they look to see if there is truth to the complaint.  They can’t be bothered.”321 Ani Khadijah, a domestic worker hit by her employer, said:

I ran away.  I went to the police station….  The policeman talked to me and said, “Never mind, go home to your employer.”  The police asked me if I want to work here or go to Indonesia.  I said I wanted to work here.  “If you want to work here, you have to go to your agent.”  I refused to go to my agent because she was naughty.322

Bridget Lew, director of H.O.M.E., an organization that aids migrant workers, explained that when a domestic worker complains to the police, the police will often call the employer and agent to hear their side of the story. They might ask the domestic worker if she is willing to return to them. At that point, “the girl will say yes, sir, yes, sir. Why? Because she’s afraid. The police officer is Singaporean and she thinks he is on the side of the agent and employer. He is in uniform and may scare her.”323 She noted one of the most important strategies is to have individuals from the Philippines or Indonesia available to explain domestic workers’ rights and options to them in their own languages.

The Singapore government has increased cooperation with nongovernmental organizations to provide services to abused migrant workers. The government has also tried to engage the media to bring greater attention to prosecutions of employers who assault or fail to pay their domestic worker. In conjunction with the Philippines, the Ministry of Manpower has been financially supporting the Bayanihan Center, an institution providing weekend courses to domestic workers. The director of H.O.M.E., an organization specializing in aiding abused migrant workers said:

I tell my staff, let me know of cases of injustice.  I e-mail people at the top [of the Ministry of Manpower] and they reopen the case.  This is the kind of relationship we have with MOM [Ministry of Manpower]….  I have achieved a very constructive dialogue….  They’re open to feedback from me even if the feedback is negative or embarrassing.324

Despite these improvements, other advocates and organizations were afraid of critiquing the Ministry of Manpower publicly and had mixed experiences interacting with the government. Migrant workers’ advocates and sending countries’ diplomats expressed frustration with the long processing time of legal complaints and the resolution of disputes through mediation or settlements often at a disadvantage to migrant domestic workers. They also criticized the Singapore government’s unwillingness to incorporate sending countries’ regulations on migrant workers into their own standards, for example the Philippines and Sri Lankan policies of banning direct recruitment.

Migrant workers’ advocates and some employment agents in Singapore have suggested reducing the levy to facilitate employers’ ability to pay higher wages to domestic workers. They have also recommended the government direct monies into services for domestic workers or for financial bonuses to reward domestic workers who complete two-year contracts.

The government sends mixed messages about the relationship between domestic workers’ wages and payment of the government levy. Ministry of Manpower officials told Human Rights Watch, “The relationship between the levy and wages is a weak one….  We lowered the levy, and it actually caused a lowering of wages.  [It depends on] what a worker is willing to work for, if we set a minimum wage, there will be incentive to cheat.”325 On the other hand, when they announced a lowering of the levy in February 2005, they said the, “levy reduction will help employers pay more for better quality FDWs [foreign domestic workers] as the savings would help to offset the higher salaries of the FDWs.”326

The levy is paid through the “GIRO” system,327 which automatically deducts the levy from an employers’ bank account each month. Migrant workers’ advocates and some officials from sending countries criticized the Singaporean’s divergent response to employers who defaulted on levy payments compared to domestic workers who had been underpaid. As a result of the GIRO system, the government is able to identify a defaulting employer immediately, and will move swiftly to collect the missing levy, remove the domestic worker, or impose penalties. Conversely, effective mechanisms to report and collect unpaid wages are not yet in place. The government is currently exploring ways to link migrant domestic workers to the GIRO system.

The Singapore government regulates employment agencies though the Employment Agencies Act.  The other principal mechanism for monitoring employment agencies is a required accreditation from the Association of Employment Agencies in Singapore (AEAS) or CASETrust, a consumer rights organization. The Employment Agency and Licensing Branch (EALB) oversees the licensing of employment agencies and enforces the Employment Agencies Act. Thirteen employment agencies faced prosecution in the second half of 2005.328

The Employment Agency and Licensing Branch responds to complaints lodged against employment agencies. However, it does not use other legal tools at its disposal to curb abuses committed by employment agencies. These include workplace inspections and imposing limits on recruitment fees. The law also permits the government to enter and inspect employment agencies and their documents.329 Such inspections do not take place routinely and generally occur only as a result of complaints. The Employment Agencies Act stipulates that, “The Minister may make rules for carrying out the purposes of this Act and in particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing powers he may make rules to prescribe….  the fees payable to licensees by applicants for employment and applicants for workers.”330 Government regulation of agency fees and the “private loans” extended by employment agents to workers are necessary to avoid exploitation of domestic workers who pay high recruitment and placement fees and whose resulting indebtedness place them at greater risk of abuse.

Response of Sending Countries

Sending countries have a mixed record responding to abuse of migrant domestic workers. Through the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration [POEA] and an active diplomatic corps in Singapore, the Philippines government has built relatively strong protections into its recruitment and placement systems, and has helped support domestic workers’ organizations in Singapore. Other countries like India have barely instituted a monitoring system.

The most common strategies for defending domestic workers’ rights among the major sending countries include accreditation programs for employment agencies, issuing standard employment contracts, and creating shelters and referral programs in embassies for domestic workers who experience abuse.

Accreditation programs for employment agencies typically require agencies to register, have a minimum financial base, and use government-approved standard employment contracts.331 Typically, there are few or no provisions addressing treatment of domestic workers, fees agencies can charge, conditions of recruitment and placement, or minimum levels of expertise or qualifications employment agents should have. Labor ministries in sending countries often have no regular system in place to monitor employment agencies, for example, through unannounced inspections or program audits.

Embassies in Singapore play a significant role in responding to the problems confronted by migrant workers who have left their employers. The Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesian embassies all have staff responsible for processing labor complaints, liaising with the Ministry of Manpower, and helping to secure legal and medical aid if necessary.332 The Philippines Embassy said they receive, “less than ten cases per day.  Yesterday, [there were] seven cases….  Police cases include physical abuse, molestation, outraging modesty.”333 When domestic workers approach their embassy with cases of severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, and unpaid wages, they are often able to secure some assistance. However, critical gaps remain. Pertiwisari, an Indonesian domestic worker who sustained bruises from her employer’s abuse, told Human Rights Watch:

When I spoke with the embassy staff, they asked what was wrong with my hand. I said I was beaten by my employer.  They said, “okay, later your agent will fetch you.”  I protested, “my agent doesn’t want to help me, if I don’t go back to the employer and pay, they will send me to Batam.”  I had S$10 [U.S.$6] so I asked a taxi to take me to the police.  They took me to the hospital and took pictures and filed a case against the employer.334

Domestic workers who encounter problems with working conditions such as too many hours of work, excessive workload, or verbal abuse are sometimes successful in seeking assistance from their embassies. For example, migrants’ rights advocates say the Sri Lanka High Commission takes quick action:  “They send a letter right away, one letter to MOM [Ministry of Manpower]. They ensure no one can repatriate the maid or cancel the work permit.”335

A recurring problem among the embassies of sending countries and the Singapore government is the referral of domestic workers with complaints back to the employment agency. In some cases, the agent may have also been implicated in threatening or abusing the domestic worker. In other situations, the agent does not have the authority to respond to complaints adequately and may respond by finding the domestic worker another employer, often charging transfer fees and high room and board costs. The Filipino embassy and the Sri Lanka High Commission will only call employment agents if they have been accredited according to the requirements of those countries’ regulations. One employment agent said, “I am not accredited with the Filipino embassy.  They won’t call me [if a worker I placed runs away to their shelter], they only call accredited agencies.”336 Another employment agent said of the Indonesian embassy:

They don’t really help girls seriously.  Whenever there is a runaway maid, they’ll just call me up and tell me, “your maid is here,” unless there are signs of physical abuse.337

The Indonesian and Filipino embassies have created shelters to house migrant workers while they arrange their paperwork to leave the country, process complaints with MOM, or wait for the completion of criminal prosecutions. The Sri Lanka High Commission has no shelter but sometimes refers domestic workers to private local shelters. We interviewed some domestic workers who had stayed in embassy shelters as well as aid workers at private shelters. These interviews suggested that embassy personnel often failed to pursue full investigations. In a candid interview, an official from the Sri Lanka High Commission said:

Many of them call.  We don’t encourage them to come.  It’s a matter of leaving employers.  If they are in desperate circumstances, they do come.  We don’t have a hotline.338

The embassies also play an important role in fostering domestic workers’ organizations and training programs. Some embassies have courses on-site, while others support private organizations. The most well-known is the Bayanihan Center, a program that offers domestic workers certificate programs in skills ranging from nursing to martial arts. The Philippines embassy contributes financially to the Bayanihan center, widely seen as a model for providing domestic workers with opportunities to upgrade their skills.

The Singapore government has not cooperated with sending countries on key issues. For example, the Philippines government would like Singapore to require that Filipina domestic workers sign the POEA contract, which guarantees one rest day per week, a minimum wage, and caps on recruitment fees, before approving their work permits:

We have been asking, is it possible that Singapore requires the POEA contract before issuing the in-principle approval…Both the requirements of the Filipino and Singaporean governments would have to be complied with.  Now it’s just Singapore’s.339

Response of Employment Agencies

Some employment agencies work closely with MOM, embassies, and the police in addressing abuses, while others are the source of additional abuse and exploitation. Accreditation criteria for both AEAS and CASETrust include guidelines for resolving and documenting disputes.

Private organizations and embassies suggested that some employment agencies do take complaints of abuse seriously and try to resolve problems with the welfare of both the domestic worker and the employer in mind. One agent said she handles complaints by asking the parties to come in for mediation. “We check the maid’s side, the employer’s side.  If the employer calls, we say bring the maid and come to us.”340 One agent suggested, “Agents need to do a routine visit to the maid to know her conditions, to know if she is getting hit.  They must go to the house. Agents shouldn’t trust employers too much.”341

The Association of Employment Agencies in Singapore [AEAS] has been exploring reforms and has an active executive committee. One of their primary goals is to improve and professionalize the industry.342 They told Human Rights Watch that employment standards “should be more specific, the poor girls should be given off days, compulsory eight hours of rest.  We are dealing with households.  Everyone claims to be a good employer, but there is no benchmark.”343

Many employment agents and aid organizations expressed skepticism about the ability of AEAS and CaseTrust to truly monitor and enforce the accreditation system. A major criticism is that the two bodies—an organization of employment agencies and a consumer rights organization protecting employers—may have conflicts of interest that prevent them from promoting the rights of migrant domestic workers fully. Implementation may also be spotty. For example, accreditation criteria require employment agents to conduct house visits in the domestic worker’s initial period of deployment to check on how the employer and domestic worker are adjusting. Only one of the twelve employment agents interviewed by Human Rights Watch engaged in such checks, feeling this practice would drive away employer clients and is too time-intensive. Domestic workers and aid organizations also commented that this practice was not regularly implemented.

A representative from CASETrust, a consumer rights organization, told Human Rights Watch that his organization’s role of accrediting employment agencies and resolving disputes was primarily to be advocates for employers. He said, “We focus more on employers who feel they are cheated by employment agencies.  If there are other questions, they can go to the embassies.  They have centers where abused maids go.”344

Response of Civil Society and Faith-Based Organizations

Private organizations have created shelters, skills programs, and advocacy campaigns to meet the needs of migrant domestic workers who have been failed by other institutions. These groups vary in their mission and the services offered.

Faith-based institutions play a critical role providing immediate assistance to domestic workers who escape from abusive workplaces and agents and in setting up other services for domestic workers. In Singapore, where the government has often clamped down on freedom of expression and freedom of association, civil society is weaker than in other countries in the region. In a number of areas, faith-based initiatives have filled the gap.

This is most notable among the Filipinas, where Catholic church-based organizations have played a pioneering role in creating skills awareness programs for workers on weekends, providing emergency food and shelter, and facilitating legal aid. As greater numbers of Indonesians and Sri Lankans have started to work in Singapore, mosques and Buddhist temples have also provided programs for migrant domestic workers, including religious education and recreational activities.

These organizations have primarily focused on providing services and have not engaged in advocacy to change government policies. Two recently formed non-governmental organizations have started to do this work. H.O.M.E. provides referral services, shelter, income-generating opportunities, and legal aid to abused migrant workers. It helps workers navigate the justice system in Singapore and has been cultivating a working relationship with the Ministry of Manpower and sending countries’ embassies to respond to cases of abuse. A second organization, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), has focused its energies on raising public awareness and policy advocacy. Past activities have included a campaign calling for a day off and a photography exhibit showing domestic workers on their day off to help dispel stereotypes about how they spend their free time.

Innovative methods of peer support include an informal 24-hour “hotline” operated by Indonesian domestic workers themselves. Typically more experienced workers with relatively good employment situations, they pass out tiny scraps of paper with their mobile phone numbers to domestic workers they encounter in apartment complexes and markets.

Response of Regional and International Institutions

Labor migration—which has consequences for economic growth, immigration policy, social structure, and human rights—has become an important area of concern for governments, regional bodies, and multilateral institutions worldwide. Several international organizations have undertaken research and advocacy on migrant domestic workers regionally, including the International Labor Organization (ILO), the United Nations Development Program for Women (UNIFEM), and the World Bank.

The ILO and anti-trafficking organizations have examined the ways in which abusive labor practices may result in forced labor or trafficking. The ILO released a global report on forced labor around the world in 2005, estimating that over 22 million people around world are in forced labor, most of them in Asia. It highlighted that migrant domestic workers are at risk for forced labor and for trafficking, and is creating programs to address these issues in Southeast Asia. UNIFEM has worked with governments to create better practices and help Jordan negotiate a bilateral labor agreement on migrant domestic workers with Indonesia and to create a standard employment contract. The CEDAW Committee is developing a recommendation on women migrants.

Governments in the region have started to meet regularly to discuss issues like human trafficking and some have brokered bilateral labor agreements to implement standard employment contracts and to outline recruitment procedures. Despite the large flows of migrants from Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka to countries in Asia and the Middle East, there has been little attempt by regional bodies such as ASEAN to create minimum regional standards that could help prevent a “race to the bottom” where labor-sending countries compete with each other by offering fewer labor protections.

In recognition of the abuses that migrants face and their heightened vulnerability by working and living in countries other than their own, the United Nations created a major international human rights treaty, the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Migrant Workers Convention). The Migrant Workers Convention was finalized in 1990 and came into force with twenty-one ratifications on July 1, 2003. While several labor-sending countries such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka have ratified the convention, most labor-receiving countries, including Singapore, have not agreed to be bound by the convention.345 The convention protects migrants’ equality before the law, and a range of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights.

The United Nations has established the Global Commission on International Migration to study how to improve cooperation among the United Nations and other international agencies on migration issues. The United Nations General Assembly will hold a high-level dialogue in December 2006 to address migration and development, with the stated goal of maximizing its positive development impact and avoiding negative consequences.

[307] Regan Morris, “Many foreign maids find a restrictive, sometimes dangerous, working life in Singapore,” Associated Press, September 9, 2001.

[308] Mark Baker, “Hell’s Kitchen for Singapore Maids,” The Age, July 24, 2002.

[309] Elena Chong and Wong Sher Maine, “Boss Fined for Not Paying Maid for 1 ½ Years,” The Straits Times, October 20, 2004.

[310] Singapore Ministry of Manpower, “Employer ordered to compensate her FDW for failure to pay her salary,” press release, October 19, 2004 [online], (retrieved November 9, 2005).

[311] Theresa Tan, “More Bosses Fail to Pay Maids,” The Straits Times, October 24, 2004 and Sim Chi Yin, “Maid Abuse of a Different Kind,” The New Paper, March 16, 2005.

[312] E-mail correspondence from the Foreign Manpower Management Division, Ministry of Manpower, Singapore to Human Rights Watch, November 11, 2005.

[313] Ibid.

[314] Human Rights Watch interview with Dita Wulansih (not her real name), Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-two, Singapore, February 19, 2005.

[315] E-mail correspondence from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore, to Human Rights Watch, November 29, 2005.

[316] Singapore Const., art. 9, § 1, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.”

[317] Forced confinement for over ten days is subject to a penalty of fines and three years of imprisonment.  Ministry of Manpower, “A General Guide on Employment of Foreign Domestic Workers,” revised September 9, 2005 [online], (retrieved September 15, 2005).

[318] Human Rights Watch interview with Miriam Cuasay, labor attaché, Crescente Relación, first secretary and consul, Embassy of the Philippines, Singapore, March 3, 2005.

[319] Human Rights Watch interview with Bridget Lew, director, H.O.M.E., Singapore, November 2, 2005.

[320] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with official, Sri Lanka High Commission, November 17, 2005.

[321] Human Rights Watch interview with sending country official, Singapore, February 18, 2005.

[322] Human Rights Watch interview with Ani Khadijah (not her real name), Indonesian domestic worker, age thirty-four, Singapore, February 19, 2005.

[323] Human Rights Watch interview with Bridget Lew, H.O.M.E., Singapore, November 2, 2005.

[324] Human Rights Watch interview with Bridget Lew, H.O.M.E. social welfare organization, Singapore, February 17, 2005.

[325] Human Rights Watch interview with Ng Cher Pong and Kenneth Yap, Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, February 22, 2005.

[326] Singapore Ministry of Manpower, “Reduction of Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) Levy Rate,” press release, February 18, 2005 [online], (retrieved November 8, 2005).

[327] The Association of Banks in Singapore, “What is GIRO?” n.d. [online], (retrieved October 14, 2005). “GIRO was set up in 1987 as an electronic direct debit mechanism used by billing organisations (BOs) as a low cost means to collect payments. GIRO ia a tripartite mechansim between billing organisations, customers and the bank.”

[328] E-mail correspondence from the Foreign Manpower Management Division, Ministry of Manpower, Singapore to Human Rights Watch, November 11, 2005.

[329] Employment Agencies Act (Chapter 92), part 20.

[330] Employment Agencies Act (Chapter 92), part 29, section 1.

[331] Human Rights Watch interview with official, Sri Lanka High Commission, Singapore, February 18, 2005.

[332] For example, an official from the Sri Lanka High Commission explained: “We try to settle disputes amicably.  If we can sort it out then and there, the workers go to the agents.  If they are unhelpful or unsuccessful, then it goes to MOM.  The one advantage the embassies are given is the opportunity to stop the cancellation of the work permit….  We are given one month.  If it’s sorted out then good, or we request to have her transferred her out or sent home. If the case is referred to MOM [the Ministry of Manpower], we write the employer or call the employer.  If they don’t show up, it stops there….If the employer comes, we negotiate a settlement.” Human Rights Watch interview with diplomat, Sri Lanka High Commission, Singapore, February 18, 2005.

[333] Human Rights Watch interview with Miriam Cuasay, labor attaché, and Crescente Relación, first secretary and consul, Philippines Embassy, Singapore, March 3, 2005.

[334] Human Rights Watch interview with Pertiwisari (not her real name), Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty-one, Singapore, February 22, 2005.

[335] Human Rights Watch interview with employment agent specializing in Sri Lankan and Indian domestic workers, Singapore, February 23, 2005.

[336] Human Rights Watch interview with employment agent, Singapore, March 3, 2005.

[337] Human Rights Watch interview with employment agent, Singapore, March 3, 2005.

[338] Human Rights Watch interview with diplomat, Sri Lanka High Commission, Singapore, February 18, 2005.

[339] Human Rights Watch interview with Miriam Cuasay, labor attaché, and Crescente Relación, first secretary and consul, Philippines Embassy, Singapore, March 3, 2005.

[340] Human Rights Watch interview with labor agent, Singapore, February 23, 2005.

[341] Human Rights Watch interview with Dwiyani (not her real name), Indonesian domestic worker, age twenty, Singapore, February 22, 2005.

[342] Programs have included promoting best practices by giving annual awards to the “Best Foreign Domestic Worker” and “Best Employer.” An exploratory trip to Cambodia by an AEAS delegation to investigate new “markets” for domestic workers demonstrated continuing stereotypes about ideal workers. The perceived strengths of Cambodian workers, according to one delegation member, included their height, obedience, mild temperaments, and dark complexions. AEAS, “2nd Anniversary Dinner and Dance 2005 Program,” March 4, 2005, p. 51.

[343] Human Rights Watch interview with AEAS executive committee members, Singapore, February 24, 2005.

[344] Human Rights Watch interview with representative, CASE Trust, Singapore, February 25, 2005.

[345] For a more detailed discussion of Asian governments response to ratifying the Migrant Workers Convention, see Nicola Piper and Robyn Iredale, “Identification of the Obstacles to The Signing and Ratification of The UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers 1990: The Asia Pacific Perspective,” Asia Pacific Migration Research Network Working Paper No. 14, 2004.

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