Abused and 'fined' for mistakes

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Ms Diana, a 24-year-old Filipino maid, ran away from her employers this year after just three months. The first month with them was okay, she said, but in the second month, her "Ma'am" started to get angry all the time.

By the third month, she was getting physically or verbally abused twice in a week. "Ma'am loved to pull my ear, pull my hair, and pushed me until I fell down," she said, adding that she would also be scolded with vulgar words.

The couple also deducted money from her salary of $550 if she made mistakes. Forgetting to close the windows was a $30 fine. It was $200 for leaving the gas stove on for too long.

From sleeping and eating too little, Ms Diana lost 6kg from her petite 41kg frame. "I felt so ugly, because I was very thin and had so many pimples," she said.

She said she was not allowed to use a mobile phone at home. It was only on Chinese New Year, when she was given a day off and a cellphone to use, that she was able to call her agency back in the Philippines. The agency told her to call the agent in Singapore but she did not know the number.

One day, while her employers were at work, she ran away, even though she had nowhere to go. A Filipino woman she met took her to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home). She now stays at its shelter and volunteers at its office in Lucky Plaza.

The Manpower Ministry was contacted about her salary deductions, and her case officer said there would be a police case as there had been physical abuse.

She has been waiting for four months for the outcome and is currently on a special pass, which is issued when employers cancel the work permits and investigations are ongoing.

In most cases, maids can continue to work if the police do not object or if they join the Manpower Ministry's Temporary Job Scheme, said Ms Valli Pillai, a director at Home.

Ms Diana wants to continue to work here, if only to save up more money before going home.

"Sometimes, the employer is good, sometimes bad, you don't know," she said with resignation. "When you are new, maybe they are good, then after that, their attitude changes."

She said she hopes employers will build better relationships with maids. "Employers must give time for bonding, talk to you about what they want or don't want," she said. "They can treat us like friends or family."

This article was first published on July 12, 2015.
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