Often disregarded or socially excluded – this is the situation of foreign domestic workers in Singapore, if they do not banner headlines because of falling victim to physical or sexual abuse, or even money-lending scams.
Directly and indirectly, the contributions of foreign domestic workers in the country can only be appreciated in terms of the freed hours and greater opportunities for their employers to become financially productive and stable in exchange for the long hours these workers put in taking care of and managing the household.
Economy Gains SGD 11.1 B in Contributions from Domestic Workers
According to a national study, foreign domestic workers (FDWs) contributed a total of US$8.2 billion (S$11.1 billion) last year to the Singapore economy, or 2.4% of the country’s gross domestic product for that year, as shared in a report by Yahoo! News Singapore.
The study, commissioned by information services company Experian and Hong Kong charity Enrich, computed the total economic contribution of 250,000 FDWs by combining their personal expenditure, real value of “paid” domestic work, and value of freed-up time.
Case in point, freeing mothers to re-enter the labour force added S$3.5 billion to the Singapore economy, including savings of S$675 in monthly childcare costs per household.
The study also revealed that FDWs contributed to the economies in their home countries through remittances. Singapore-based FDWs remitted a total of S$1.3 billion last year.
Of note, the value of FDWs in Singapore has been supported by the residents’ increasing dependency (demand) on them since 2010, the study noted.
However, the study also stressed a sad truth regarding FDWs in the country, noting that domestic work has been “historically undervalued” and the research shows that it is a “key contributor to economic growth, and should be valued accordingly.”
And while their contributions to the economy may be exceptional, foreign domestic workers are oftentimes financially excluded and return home financially worse off, according to the study.
Furthermore, the study pointed out that a third of Singapore-based FDWs are in debt, compared with 65% in Malaysia and 83% in Hong Kong.
Across the region, FDWs relied mainly on family and friends to get loans as they do not have access to formal financial services. The main reasons cited include ineligibility, lack of knowledge about financial services or low confidence in dealing with financial institutions.
Because of these factors, FDWs are left behind in society and are often treated as outcasts – a far cry from their actual contributions to the economy in the greater scheme of things as per the study.
It is but only fitting for the government, let alone employers, to at least show some value to what FDWs are doing for them and the economy in general.