SINGAPORE - To provide for her family in Myanmar, she came here in January to work as a foreign domestic worker.
Two weeks later, Madam Khin July Moe, 26, fell four storeys while cleaning the windows of her employer's flat and was rushed to the National University Hospital.
She survived, but is so badly hurt her family might now be in a worse off position than they were before she got here.
Married for 11 years with two daughters, she left her family behind to work in Singapore as she needed more money for her ailing mother's medical expenses.
Back home, Madam Khin would only sometimes get work earning her 1,536 Myanmar kyats (S$2).
Here, she was promised a monthly salary between $600 and $800.
The better pay, however, did not help in allaying her homesickness.
When she chatted with her husband on the phone a week later, she said she wanted to go home.
Taxi driver, Mr Zaw Myo Htike, 32, told The New Paper in a phone interview: "She said her employers were good to her, but she was depressed due to the language barrier.
"I told her to be patient and to put up with it for a while because she had already signed an agreement with the agent," Mr Zaw said.
It was Madam Khin's cousin, also a maid in Singapore, who called with the bad news of her four-storey fall. Her employer had called for an ambulance after she fell.
TNP understands that Madam Khin spent 15 days at the National University Hospital's intensive care unit before being moved to a normal ward.
When she was certified fit to travel home by several doctors, she was repatriated with the help of an ambulance operator.
As foreign domestic workers are not covered by the Work Injury Compensation Act, Madam Khin can only be compensated through the compulsory Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) policy - something migrant worker groups feel shortchanges the maids. (See report on right.)
She is now in Yangon General Hospital waiting to be operated on.
Mr Zaw is unsure how he is going to foot her medical bills as she is expected to undergo further surgery in Yangon.
He is also worried that in Yangon her condition may worsen as the medical facilities there are not as good as those in Singapore.
"My wife is conscious. She feels pain in her hands and legs. Part of her skull was cut off. She can't speak as well as before because she can't open her mouth widely."
Madam Khin will have metal shafts inserted into her limbs.
Mr Zaw, who is currently staying in the hospital to look after his wife, said part of her gall bladder also has to be cut off to stop bile from constantly flowing out. He added she was chubby when she left Myanmar, but looks weak and frail now.
He conceded all he knew about her medical condition was that she would be handicapped.
"I was told that after the operations, her limbs will be shorter than before," he said.
The incident has left him regretting allowing Madam Khin to work in Singapore as a foreign domestic worker.
"I will not let my children or their children go to Singapore again," he said.
While her situation worries him, Mr Zaw said he does not blame her former employer because he took care of her hospital bills after the accident.
When contacted, her former employer, who declined to be named, would only say that he has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the incident.
He said he had done his best to make sure her life was saved, and had chalked up a huge hospital bill.
Now he just hopes to close the chapter and move on, he added.
A Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesman said investigations revealed that Ms Khin had cleaned the windows although her employer did not ask her to do so.
She also shared that Madam Khin she did not take the necessary safety precautions taught during the mandatory Settling-in-Programme.
The spokesman said her former employer had paid for her upkeep, maintenance and medical treatment until she was fit to return home to recuperate.
The spokesman added: "In addition, in line with MOM's requirements, (he) had purchased a PAI policy with a minimum coverage of $40,000 and is currently working with the insurer to make a claim for Ms Khin."
Madam Khin's former employer had also been issued an advisory to remind him of his responsibility to provide safe working conditions for maids.
The MOM spokesman reminded employers and foreign domestic workers that cleaning the exteriors of windows is only allowed when the grilles are locked and there is adult supervision.
Part of her skull was cut off. She can't speak as well as before because she can't open her mouth widely. - Mr Zaw Myo Htike on his wife Madam Khin July Moe.
Maids not covered for permanent injuries
Maids could be covered by the compulsory Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) policy, but they are "losing out" as they are not compensated for what could be permanent physical impairment, a workers' advocate told The New Paper.
This is because they are not covered by the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA), said Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, a board member on migrant worker group Transient Workers Count Too.
"It is quite clear that the terms of the PAI are more focused on covering employer's liability when a domestic worker gets injured in an accident, while WICA is more about awarding compensation to workers who are injured in work-related injuries," she said.
Mr Jolovan Wham, the executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, agreed. He is spearheading a fund-raising initiative for Ms Khin's medical expenses. He felt that maids here were discriminated against by Singapore's laws and policies because of the WICA exclusion.
He said: "Many types of work injuries are not covered and the quantum of compensation is determined by individual insurers, rather than a national standard."
However, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said the issue should be looked at not just from the employees' perspective, but also the employers'.
"While it seems only humane that employers undertake the medical expenses incurred, there should also be a certain level of protection given to the employers.
"For instance, how much would it cost the employers if this was legislated?" the MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC said.
This article was published on May 6 in The New Paper.
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