One domestic worker’s story
Jolene Tan // 20 July 2010
In February I wrote about the gross maltreatment and dehumanisation of domestic workers in Singapore. It’s received a comment from MaidinSing, one such worker who blogs to raise awareness of the way in which migrant labour is exploited in Singapore. She writes anonymously because she does not want to jeopardise future employment or her immigration status.
I strongly recommend reading her website and especially her account of her own experiences in employment (emphases in the original):
My employers would give me an allowance and deposit the rest of my money in my (joint) bank account. They said they wouldn’t give me access to my own money as they were doing it for my own good, so that I would have savings. I would need to buy my own personal items out of my allowance. As with most employers they kept my passport and Work Permit so that I could not leave should I wish.
Almost a year after I had started working there I developed an excruciating tooth ache. I couldn’t talk or eat. A visit to the dentist resulted in the extraction of my wisdom teeth. The $500 cost was deducted from my salary.
After working for more than I year I begged and begged to be able to see my sister who was also working in Singapore. I was just so desperate to see her, to see anyone. I told them I needed to get some urgent family documents from her and they finally relented. I met my sister for 30mins at the MRT station close by. In 14 months those 30 minutes were the only time I interacted with anyone outside of the household and was the only time I was ever out of the house unaccompanied.
Finally after 14 months my male employer was to be relocated by his company. I cannot tell you the joy I felt. In order for my employers to allow me to transfer I needed to pay the transfer costs out of my own savings. I didn’t care I was so happy to leave. In all the time I had been with them I had paid off a total of P87,600 pesos debt (agency fees) I incurred by coming to Singapore. Further I paid my dental bill, bought my own personal items, paid the transfers fees, plus I incurred an additional months debt from the agency for the transfer. I had worked 17 hours a day 7 days a week for 14 months for virtually nothing . I no longer had savings and I’d only sent a pittance home to my family. My dreams were well and truly shattered.