Indonesian domestic worker falls while fleeing employer's flat via rubbish chute

Indonesian domestic worker falls while fleeing employer's flat via rubbish chute
PHOTO: The Straits Times

At 28cm by 19cm, the rubbish chute opening is just half the size of a copy of The New Paper.

Not that its size deterred Rindu, an Indonesian domestic worker who is 1.57m tall and weighs 53kg.

The 28-year-old somehow managed to squeeze herself into the opening and, with a makeshift rope, tried to lower herself from her former employers' seventh-storey Housing Board flat.

But she lost her grip and ended up falling down the dark and dirty chute, injuring her spine and leg.

Now recuperating at a shelter in Batam, Rindu, who declined to give her full name, told TNP last Friday in English: "I just wanted to go away. I didn't think about the injuries. Maybe I'm crazy."

Recalling the days leading up to her escape attempt in November last year, she said her first month at work was fine and went smoothly.

She had come to Singapore in hopes of earning money to supplement her mother's irregular income, and it was her first job.

DEPRESSED

But Rindu soon became depressed after being allegedly mistreated by her employers. The Ministry of Manpower has disputed her claims. The employers have also reportedly engaged a lawyer for the case.

"I'm on a transfer (to another family), but I think I want to go away from this situation. I cannot wait like this. Because the situation at that time, I was really depressed..." she told TNP.

In three days, she hatched her escape plan. She would leave through the rubbish chute.

To her, that was the "safest" and only way. She said the door was electronically locked and she did not have the keys.

Neither the stench nor the danger of the act crossed her mind.

"The rubbish would be 'soft-soft', that was what I thought..." said the Indonesian.

Rindu also claimed she did not know who to seek help from, even though she attended the Settling-In Programme in September last year.

The programme teaches first-time foreign domestic workers the different avenues to seek help from, including the hotline number to call.

"I wanted to try calling the police but I didn't know the number," she said.

In the wee hours of Nov 21 - just over 2½ months into her job - she fashioned a rope by tying four bedsheets together.

One end was tied to the handle of the rubbish chute hopper, while the other end was looped around her waist.

She had intended to use the rope to hoist herself down seven storeys to safety.

But things did not go as planned and she ended up falling down the chute.

"I wanted to climb down slowly but my arms were not strong enough. It was very dark and scary, and I was crying," she said.

"I don't know how long it took (to fall) but I know it was very, very fast."

She landed in a heap of what felt like paper in the collection bin. It did nothing to cushion her fall, as she felt sharp stabs of pain in her waist and back.

Alone in the dark, all she could do was shout: "Help! Help!"

About 10 minutes later, she was discovered by a cleaner who works under foreman Islam Shafiqul, 35. It was about 6.15am by then.

The Bangladeshi national told TNP that a resident, believed to be Rindu's former employer, had requested for the collection point door to be opened as "something had dropped inside".

Mr Islam said: "My worker (the cleaner) thought the resident dropped a key because people drop these things. But when he pulled out the bin, he saw a hand shaking and a voice saying 'Help me'.

"He was very scared, so he called me over. I also cannot believe, how can a (person) be inside?".

By the time he rushed over, Rindu was about to be taken away by an ambulance.

Everything that happened after that was a blur, Rindu told TNP.

She only remembered waking up in the National University Hospital, where she went through three surgeries.

The fall left her with a leg fracture. She also has eight rings attached to her spine to hold it in place and has to wear a waist brace.

In mid-January, she left for Batam and is now recuperating in a shelter.

Her family in Indonesia does not know about her injuries.

"I just told them I'm in Batam and that I'm okay. My mum is 65 years old, I cannot make her worry like that," said the second of three sisters.

Rindu is fretting about not being able to send money home.

But when asked if she will come back to Singapore to work again, she hesitated.

Then, she quietly said: "No, I'm traumatised."

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

Rindu ties four bedsheets together to form a length of rope. She secures one end to the handle of the rubbish chute hopper and the other end around her waist.

She climbs into the rubbish chute in her employer's seventh-storey flat and tries to climb down using the makeshift rope.

She loses her grip on the rope and falls into a waste collection bin at the foot of the block. 

She shouts, "Help! Help!" and waits for about 10 minutes before a cleaner opens the door to the waste collection point. She is later taken to the National University Hospital.

MOM: She did not bring up issues

She had earlier claimed she tried to flee because she was mistreated by her employers.

These allegations, however, did not surface when Rindu was interviewed by the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) investigating officer (IO) "despite being given repeated opportunities", a spokesman told The New Paper yesterday.

The IO first intercepted Rindu at the ferry terminal last month. All Rindu said at the time was that she wanted to return to Indonesia, and had no complaints against her employers.

The IO, however, arranged to defer Rindu's departure and conducted an in-depth interview with the assistance of an interpreter.

When asked about her duties and well-being, Rindu said her former employers, apart from nagging at her often, had not mistreated her.

'NO COMPLAINTS'

"She did not lack rest or food, and she had no complaints against her employers or about her employment conditions.

"She also did not bring up the incident where she alleged that her employer had splashed hot water on her or that the house keys were taken from her," said MOM's spokesman.

If Rindu's account of alleged mistreatment is accurate, the proper avenue for redress would be to lodge a report with MOM and record a formal statement to facilitate investigation.

MOM's spokesman said: "Singapore has clear laws in place to protect the safety and well-being of foreign domestic workers (FDWs).

"To ensure a meaningful and fair investigation process, FDWs should co-operate with the Ministry and provide accurate, relevant and timely information to facilitate investigation. FDWs who wilfully make false accusations will also be taken to task.

"MOM advises workers with employment issues they cannot resolve directly with employers to seek help from their employment agents, who have a duty to render assistance. Workers should not take matters into their own hands and attempt acts that will cause harm to themselves or others."

FDWs who cannot resolve such problems through their agents can call MOM through the FDW helpline at 1800-339-5505.

They keep quiet for fear of losing jobs

It is common for foreign domestic workers (FDW) to keep mum about their situation when interviewed by officers from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), said Mr Jolovan Wham.

"They are afraid of 'trouble'. There is widespread fear of being blacklisted and not being able to return here to work," the executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) added.

The same fear could also explain why some FDWs choose not to report any form of mistreatment to the authorities.

"Actually the fear they have is (that) they may be penalised for filing a complaint. They are afraid if they go to MOM or the police, they may be blacklisted or lose their jobs.

"Therefore, the solution is to ensure they are protected from losing their jobs when they seek help and file complaints," he said. He also revealed that every time a festive season is around the corner, he and his colleagues get ready for an influx of FDWs seeking refuge in the Home's shelter.

This Chinese New Year alone, Home saw 20 of them.

Mr Wham said: "This happens every year, so we're not really shocked. There are a few police cases among the 20. Some were referred by the police themselves."

There are now over 100 women housed in Home's two shelters.

Of the 20 domestic workers who turned up at the shelters two weeks ago, two-thirds are new FDWs here while the rest have experience.

"They had various complaints. Some alleged physical abuse while many others complained of being psychologically and verbally abused and working exploitative hours with no days off," Mr Wham said.


This article was first published on Feb 19, 2016.
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