When we talk about working abroad, it’s quite easy to conclude that ‘working overseas is difficult,’ but what makes this statement valid? And as expected, there has to be some kind of laws to address this situation, or are there?
Apart from being separated from families, dealing with homesickness, and the challenges of adapting to a foreign culture, much of what we know about life as a migrant worker is only at the surface.
Migrant Groups Identify Overwork and Verbal Abuse as Most Common Grievances of Domestic Helpers in Singapore
According to a study conducted by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Hong Kong-based anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared, domestic workers who seek for help for their working conditions mainly do so due to overwork, verbal abuse, and salary issues, as shared in a report by the Straits Times.
According to the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations agency, forced labour pertains to work or services exacted from a person “under the menace of any penalty and for which (he) has not offered himself voluntarily.”
This aptly touches on the subject of the study presented by Home wherein out of the 2,832 complaints received from April 2017 up to March 2018, 483 cases were related to overwork. Moreover, for this same period, there had been 17 reported new cases of absconding on average. Home also shared that they have provided shelter to over 800 foreign domestic workers in the past year.
Despite labour regulations, cases of domestic workers being overworked by up to 16 to 18 hours a day are not entirely unheard of – with even some extreme cases reaching up to 20 hours of work in a day, on top of not having any rest day.
The current “live-in” arrangement promotes this kind of issue which puts domestic workers in a situation where those who care for elderly family members or the children may be on-call 24/7.
Additionally, surveillance cameras which are common in Singapore households reinforce this problem, further making it difficult for workers take breaks without express permission from their employers, as well.
Other forms of workload-related issues being asked to perform additional tasks traditionally viewed as domestic work such as giving employers massages, washing their cars, or working at another household or the employer’s business.
ALSO READ: Housemaid Basic Duties and Responsibilities
The second most common complaint among domestic workers was verbal abuse, of which had a total of 472 cases based on the report. Forms of verbal abuse include threats and insults, with reports of some being addressed as “stupid” or “dog”. Other forms of verbal abuse are tainted with sexually-demeaning remarks such as being told, “You are no better than a prostitute.”
In other words, there are more than a handful of ways domestic workers suffer from abuse overseas (not just in Singapore), but until labour-specific legislations for these cases come into play, the problem will prevail, and if not addressed when it still can be, will develop into a culture at work in the country.