Myanmar's government has temporarily barred its women from working as maids in Singapore due to concerns over ill-treatment and abuse, the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF) said.
The "temporary suspension", in effect for about five months, will be lifted once an agreement, in the form of a memorandum of understanding (MOU), is signed with labour agencies in Singapore, it added. An official from Myanmar's Labour Ministry confirmed the suspension.
In Singapore, the president of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore (AEAS), Ms K. Jayaprema, said she has not been informed of any suspension by the Myanmar embassy, the "usual channel of communication".
However, Ms Jayaprema acknowledged that the association is in discussions with its Myanmar counterpart on an MOU. She said it is currently just a draft document and there are several issues that need to be addressed.
In an interview with The Straits Times, MOEAF vice-chairman Soe Myint Aung said: "We just made a temporary suspension. We will start it again after signing a memorandum of understanding... We are still discussing this (MOU) with agencies from the Singapore side."
Concern over maid abuse prompted the suspension, he said. "There were some cases of Burmese maids abused in Singapore, but those maids did not go through our agency, they went the illegal way."
There are reportedly 30,000 to 40,000 Myanmar women working as maids in Singapore.
"There was no problem before and the Labour Ministry let us operate even though there is no MOU," said Mr Soe Myint Aung. "But we found later that there were some problems when agencies from Singapore violated regulations. That is why the Labour Ministry imposed the suspension," he added, without giving any details about the cases.
The Straits Times reported in April last year that a rising number of Myanmar maids were "running away" from their Singapore employers. One reason was that they found it unbearable to work for months without receiving any pay.
Earlier this year, Myanmar media reported that the government wants its women working as maids in Singapore to be paid a minimum monthly wage of $450, be given at least one day off a month, and not to have to pay a recruitment fee that exceeds four months of their salary.
The MOU is intended to turn these proposals into regulations.
"When we have done the MOU, all of us will need to respect the agreement. This MOU will protect our domestic workers from exploitation and rights abuses," Mr Soe Myint Aung said.
An MOU could see 1,000 maids head to Singapore a month, the Myanmar Times said on Monday.
Ms Jayaprema noted that this is the first time that the AEAS has been asked to sign an MOU with a source country.
In the case of the Philippines and Indonesia, they have formal laws that provide protection for their women who work overseas.
Early this year, Myanmar stopped sending its women to Hong Kong just after the first batch of 19 domestic helpers arrived in the city. The suspension followed a high-profile case in which a Hong Kong housewife was accused of abusing her young Indonesian maid for months.
This article was first published on September 13, 2014.
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