MANILA, Philippines - The Akbayan party-list group has denounced what it called a "modern-day slave auction" in Singapore in which maids, including Filipinos, are displayed and marketed at a shopping mall in the city state.
The group Tuesday called on the Singapore government to crack down on the "display and marketing of migrant workers" at the Bukit Timah Shopping Center.
The practice is dehumanizing and degrading for migrant workers who are being treated like "ordinary commodities," said Walden Bello, the Akbayan member in the House of Representatives.
Citing a report by the Al Jazeera TV network, Akbayan said migrants from the Philippines, Indonesia and Burma (Myanmar) working in "maid agencies" were being made to sit beneath signs identifying them as "Homekeeper" or "Budget Maid."
Prospective employers may choose from "super-promo" and "special discount rates," in which Filipinos are tagged as "smarter," Indonesians as "less bright," and Burmese workers as "sweet-natured and compliant."
"The workers are also made to simulate real-life housework, like taking care of the elderly or children," the group said.
Vice President Jejomar Binay on Monday called for an investigation into the Al Jazeera report.
"Practices such as this have already been consigned to history, to the age of colonialism when people were simply abducted and shipped thousands of miles from their homes to work as slaves," Bello said.
"It is shocking that this still happens in modern times and in Singapore no less, one of the most developed countries in the world," he said.
Akbayan has asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to demand that the Singapore government immediately put an end to the practice and hold those behind it accountable.
"We should express our extreme disappointment, if not our anger, to the Singaporean government, that this can happen right under their noses and in full view of the public," Bello said.
"The fact that this was done as if it were a legitimate enterprise should be of grave concern not only to us but to the Singaporean government," he added.
Bello also urged the DFA to enforce stricter regulations to ensure that Filipinos are not victimized by human traffickers. He is concerned that Filipinos subjected to such modern-day slave auctions are the same ones victimized by illegal recruiters and do not have labour contracts.
"At our end, we can tighten the avenues by which these traffickers transport our migrant workers out of the country and into these slave auctions. This will need stronger coordination between the DFA and our law-enforcement agencies and the Bureau of Immigration," Bello said.
"Our officials must be vigilant and look into seemingly benign activities because it may in fact be human trafficking in the guise of tourism," he said.
An estimated 170,000 Filipinos live and work in Singapore.