SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): Employers will be required to give their domestic workers one compulsory day off each month that cannot be compensated with cash, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said.
The ministry on Thursday (July 22) announced new measures to strengthen support for migrant domestic workers.
New maids will also be interviewed twice in their first year of work by the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), and undergo checks by employment agencies after their placement.
This is to ensure the maids and their employers settle into their working relationship, as well as raise and resolve issues. This will be done by the end of this year.
To facilitate the interviews, MOM will set up three neighbourhood centres in partnership with the the CDE, with the first centre targeted to open by the first quarter of next year.
Their compulsory medical examination every six months will also be enhanced to pick up signs of abuse.
Doctors will need to record the maid's body-mass index, and check for "signs of suspicious and unexplained injuries". They will need to submit these records to MOM for follow-up if deemed necessary.
The changes will be implemented from the third quarter of this year, with the compulsory rest day taking effect by the end of next year to give employers time to adjust to the changes.
MOM added: "Taking care of our migrant domestic workers will require a whole-of-society effort. We would like to encourage everyone to play a part in building a culture of respect and care for migrant domestic workers in our homes and our communities."
In response to queries from The Straits Times, Alex Au, vice-president of migrant rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said that while TWC2 is heartened by MOM’s efforts, more can be done.
Au asked how the authorities can detect when an employer flouts the compulsory day-off rule.
He said: “If the domestic worker is not allowed out at all, how is she able to let others know of her plight, especially if she is new to Singapore and has not had the opportunity - in the absence of a day off - to make friends?
“We cannot even rely on her making a phone call to cry for help because without a day off, she may not even be able to buy phone credits.”
He also said that interviewing new domestic workers twice in their first year of work might not be enough, as “it could be six long months before she gets a chance to voice her feelings”.
On the enhanced medical check-ups, Au said that employers and other family members should not be allowed into the examination room and “must not be permitted to speak for the worker when the doctor has questions”.
He said: “In the presence of an abusive employer, workers are understandably afraid to speak up and explain their injuries truthfully.”
The MOM changes come after Piang Ngaih Don, a 24-year-old domestic worker from Myanmar, died on July 26, 2016, after being starved and tortured for months. She weighed a mere 24kg when she died from the final assault.
Her employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, a 41-year-old housewife, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on June 22.
Piang had passed her medical examination in January and May 2016. The doctor saw bruises around her eye sockets and cheeks and mild swelling on both feet during the check-up in May, but Gaiyathiri claimed this was because Piang fell frequently.
Gaiyathiri was able to reject the doctor’s suggestion for further tests of the victim’s swollen legs to check for underlying conditions.
Piang’s employment agent also did not report anything amiss, despite speaking to her on two occasions. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network