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Special report: Building a positive relationship with your domestic helper


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In Singapore’s fast-moving, ‘can do’ economy, we often rely on the support of live-in domestic helpers to allow us the freedom to work. Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) are largely responsible for the smooth running of many a household – from daily chores and cooking, to the care of children and the elderly.

The facts speak for themselves:

The number of FDWs has increased steadily over the years. As of June 2017, statistics from Ministry of Manpower (MOM) indicate there are 243,000 FDWs in Singapore. This is approximately 18% of the foreign workforce in Singapore.

Mounting concerns

As a result of living and working in a household, domestic helpers can build close relationships with their employers; with both sides committing to a relationship that can last many years. However, according to an extensive report by the International Labour Office, living where you work is not always easy:

“Live-in domestic workers on average work far more hours per day and per week than almost any other category of workers. In some cases, the isolation of domestic workers in the household has meant that they are expected to be available to work around the clock, with very little rest. “

These findings support a milestone study (“HOME Study”) that was published in 2015 by Singapore’s own Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME). Founded in 2004, HOME is a well-respected non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to assisting foreign workers in Singapore. The HOME Study found that the foreign domestic workers (FDWs) they interviewed worked an average of 13 hours daily. Forty percent of the respondents did not have a weekly day off.

What does this mean for employers?

Whilst the above isn’t reflective of all employer-helper relationships, often, the best way to solve a problem is before it starts. This may seem counter intuitive, but when it comes to employing a domestic helper it makes perfect sense.

Positive vs. Negative working relationship

According to the HOME Study, a positive working relationship means the domestic helper:

  • feels like an important, integral part of the household
  • has normal standards of privacy
  • has her own room to sleep in
  • gets sufficient rest
  • receives adequate nutritional and medical attention by the employer
  • has regular access to a stable social network
  • has regular contact, plus regular agreed time with family

A negative relationship can be extremely detrimental to an FDW’s psychological wellbeing, and can have far-reaching consequences for all involved. Causes of a negative relationship commonly include:

  • language related communication barriers
  • abusive behaviour (especially verbal and physical) by the employer or employer’s family
  • invasions of privacy
  • restrictions of communication by the employer or employer’s family

Help for domestic helpers in Singapore

Across Singapore, many are striving for fairer working conditions for FDWs.  Below are just some of the NGOs working together to help those in need and advocate better policies. As a concerned citizen, you can also contact the first 2 NGOs listed below for assistance if you believe an FDW may be in need of help.

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) - has long been a champion for FDWs, offering training in vocational skills. It also runs the largest shelter for FDWs in Singapore and is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking and forced labour.

Transient Workers Count Too - TWC2 - works on a number of different fronts, ranging from engaging with policy makers to frontline assistance for migrant workers in need, including running a food programme. It also acts as a lobby group and advocate for migrant workers' rights.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) – for over 18 years, ACMI has claimed to have helped more than 4,768 migrants with their challenges and issues, supplied more than 163,978 meals/ration packs for foreign workers and trained over 7,781 foreign domestic workers.

FAST – Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training - has planned and organised many vocational skill courses and specialised and professional skill programmes. Every year, more than 20,000 training places are taken up by the FDWs. These courses included cooking, baking, pastry making, infant care, eldercare, foot reflexology, nursing care, computer skills, English, stress management, financial management and entrepreneurial skills.

Another organisation that may be of interest for employers is Aidha

Aidha - provides financial literacy programmes (for a fee) such as money management, computer literacy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills for foreign domestic workers and lower-income women.

Want to know more?

The Ministry of Manpower offers a complete guide to everything you need for a successful working relationship with an FDW Please refer to their website for further information.

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