Where's their safety net?

Last Saturday, an Indonesian maid fell 13 storeys and died while trying to put the laundry out to dry in a flat in Pasir Ris.

Neighbours found the 23-year-old on the ground floor with a wooden bamboo clothes pole next to her body.

She became the latest statistic.

In an interview with Lianhe Zaobao on Monday, Indonesia's Ambassador Andri Hadi said in just three months this year, six Indonesian maids have fallen from high-rise buildings.

Last year, there were 15 cases.

In some cases, the maids had jumped.

But among the deaths were maids who fell while trying to clean windows or putting the laundry out to dry.

Maids are already being provided with training, and existing laws concerning errant employers are in the process of being enhanced.

But migrant worker groups are calling for employers to compensate the families of the maids who die as a result of the job.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said while the law may hold employers accountable for negligence, it does not make up for the loss suffered by the maid's family.

He said: "What if she is the only breadwinner of the family?

"There's no point prosecuting the employers if the family of the deceased is not given any aid."

Maids raise money by borrowing from their family and friends before coming over to Singapore, he added.

So, it's possible their deaths will result in their families back home falling into debt.

Unlike other workers, maids are not covered under the Work Injury Compensation Act (Wica).

Mr Wham said that's not good enough and he wants them to be given the same benefits as other general employees who are covered under the Act.

Under Wica, injured employees are entitled to claim medical leave wages, medical expenses and lump-sum compensation for permanent incapacity or death.

In 2008, then Minister of State for Manpower Gan Kim Yong said it would be better for maids to be covered under insurance instead of Wica.

That is because the nature of their work "makes it difficult to determine whether the injury is sustained as part of the work or otherwise". The family of the deceased can also be compensated up to $140,000.

But employers are, by MOM's regulations, required to purchase the Personal Accident Insurance policy insurance when employing their maids.

In the case of an accidental death, the maid's family is entitled up to $40,000 or higher if a higher premium package is purchased.

But the maid also has to be working for at least a month.

However, Mr Wham feels that the insurance payout does not match the benefits that maids could receive should they be under Wica.

Mr Jeremy Khoo, executive director of the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, agreed that more can be done.

For one thing, the awareness of workplace safety must be raised.

Citing the cleaning of windows in apartments as an example, he said: "Employers should be trained and informed of the dangers of certain chores."

Mr Khoo said maids tend to experience a culture shock when they arrive here.

He added: "They come from small villages and are not used to living in an apartment. They don't realise that falling out of the window (of an HDB flat) could mean certain death."

Ms Sumen Kumari Raj Pati Rai, 38, of Status Employment Agency, said maids are trained.

"We teach maids to hang clothes in the house and try lifting the bamboo poles inside to test the weight as most of them have never lived in high-rise apartments before."

But she also suggested cutting the bamboo poles shorter to reduce the weight of the clothes it carries.

Required to take measures

Under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), employers must provide safe working conditions and ensure the safety and health of their maids.

The Manpower Ministry (MOM) charged 15 employers for failing to ensure a safe working environment for their maids between 2006 and last year.

Twelve were fined between $2,500 and $10,000. The remaining were issued composition fines of up to $2,000.

The Ministry plans to amend the Act this year.

Following this change, employers will be held more accountable for the welfare of migrant workers.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin added that the amended Act will strengthen his ministry's ability to deal with errant employers.

He wrote these comments in an entry on the MOM's blog last December.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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