Did rescued maid lie out of fear?

Did rescued maid lie out of fear?

Was she locked in her employer's home, made to work long hours and starved as she had claimed?

Or did she make them up to get out of her employment contract?

The story of Indonesian maid Wahyuni and her dramatic rescue was first told by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) on its website.

But in a subsequent interview with Ministry of Manpower (MOM) officials, Miss Wahyuni changed her story. (See report above right.) So she lied. But to whom and why?

TWC2 is insistent that its version of events is accurate. The organisation promotes equitable treatment for migrant workers in Singapore.

Last year, it helped 17 maids who had disputes with their employers. It also provided shelter for 15 of them.

"This year alone, we have already extracted three who had been starving," says TWC2 executive committee member Shelley Thio, 54.

So why did Miss Wahyuni change her tune later?

"A lot of the changing of statements by maids are done out of fear. They are often scared that something will happen to them and they won't be able to go home," says Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of migrant worker welfare group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).

Ms Thio says TWC2 volunteers, including herself, always tell the maids to tell the truth when making statements to the authorities.

"We tell them they are signing legal documents and if they lie, then they are punishable by law," she says.

MOM similarly reminds maids who make allegations about mistreatment or crimes committed against them.

"Wahyuni understood that statements made to public officers have to be truthful, and that her statements would be verified against other available sources including her employer," its spokesman says.

PROTOCOL

"In accordance with our protocol, a statement was properly recorded with the assistance of an interpreter in Malay, a language understood by the worker," added the MOM spokesman.

"Before finalising, the interpreter read back the statement to Wahyuni and she confirmed the information recorded."

So why did Miss Wahyuni lie? Ms Thio says it was the maid's first time working overseas, let alone outside her village.

"She was scared, alone and not empowered by her employers. Not having had any day off, she had no friends, no contacts and no access to information," she says.

A counsellor, who declined to be named, says many foreign domestic workers she spoke to feel lonely and isolated "as the only people they interact in the first few weeks in this strange land are their employers and families".

"Those who miss home will lie - that they are sick or a family member is hurt or has died - just to try and return," she adds.

HUMAN NATURE

Psychiatrist Adrian Wang says: "Some lie out of fear. Others from greed. It really depends on the context. It's human nature."

Sri Dewi, 25, an Indonesian, has worked here for five years with three different employers.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday that when she first came to Singapore in February 2010, the other maids taught her to lie, "otherwise it will be difficult to change employer or get days off ", she says.

Filipino maid Luzmarie Escoba, 42, says maids sometimes lie to get out of trouble. She also says that they sometimes resort to lying "so we don't need to pay back our salaries when we break our contracts".

The tip-off about Miss Wahyuni came in late November through an e-mail from the blogsite TR Emeritus.

Ms Thio and Ms Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, another committee member, went to the house in the Thomson area to investigate.

Both TWC2 and MOM decline to give the actual location of the house or the name of Miss Wahyuni's former employer.

According to the story posted on TWC2 website, the two rescuers had to crouch outside the gate, near a ditch and trash bins, to whisper to Miss Wahyuni as she was being watched.

Through conversations pieced together from several visits, they believed that Miss Wahyuni had not had a day off in over two years, did not get enough food and she did not really want to continue working there.

This, Ms Thio says, was corroborated with the whistle-blower's and other witnesses' accounts.

She also says a large padlock on the gate attested to the fact that Miss Wahyuni was not allowed out of the house.

"We found out later that everyone in the family has a key to the padlock except Wahyuni," Ms Thio says.

However, MOM is disputing the version of events that Miss Wahyuni, who returned to Indonesia on Dec 19, had told TWC2.

OBJECTIVE

"In handling cases, it is important to remaindispassionate and objective, neither favouring the employer nor the employee," an MOM spokesman tells TNPS.

"It is regrettable that TWC2 was so eager to believe a story of alleged abuse and to publish a grossly untruthful account on its website.

"At no time did Wahyuni indicate that she was confined by her employer against her will in the house."

She says that from interviews done with Miss Wahyuni, MOM ascertained that "no offence has been alleged by Wahyuni to be committed by her employer".

"She was neither mistreated, abused, nor did she allege that she was confined against her will. Wahyuni merely wanted to terminate her employment contract to return to Indonesia," adds the spokesman.

"This could have been done lawfully by invoking the termination clause andserving out her notice period as in her employment contract - without TWC2 needing to whisk her away."

juditht@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 8, 2015.
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