Last Thursday, a woman was jailed for framing her maid by planting jewellery in her luggage and calling the cops. Why do employers do this?
It was nine months of hell for Filipino maid Juvy.
In April 2014, she filed a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower for non-payment of salary. But her employer then filed a police report against her, accusing her of theft.
When no evidence was found, the charge was dropped.
But her employer did not stop there, filing another police report accusing her of child molest. Again, in October, the case was closed.
So the employer filed another claim of theft against her. This, too, was later dropped by the police.
Throughout this time, Juvy stayed at a shelter at Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).
For the nine months she was under investigation, she was barred from finding work and could only wait until investigation concluded.
This is just one of many cases encountered by the welfare organisation for migrant workers.
Such tactics are not new but it is rare to see such justice meted out to employers who make false accusations, say Home executive director Jolovan Wham.
That is because unlike what happened in the case involving the preschool teacher, cases are rarely as clear-cut.
Mr Wham says: "In that case, the employer had come clean and confessed that she lied. But in most of the cases we have seen, they didn't."
One tactic he observed was employers giving their maids something valuable as a present. But when a dispute happened, this "gift" became stolen loot, and the maid was accused of a crime.
Mr Wham says his organisation has been campaigning against such poor employment practices for a long time.
"Stories like Juvy's is testament to how access to justice is elusive for many domestic workers," explains Mr Wham, adding that the maid has since returned to the Philippines.
ABOUT THE CASE
Upset with her maid for wanting to return to India, Desai Asti Amit decided to frame her.
The 36-year-old pre-school teacher planted a gold pendant and a metal prayer cup in her maid's luggage last year.
When these items were uncovered during an inspection, she accused Ms Kimei Dangmei of theft and the police were notified.
But Desai's conscience was pricked, and she later admitted in a police statement that she had lied.
Last Thursday, Deputy Public Prosecutor James Low said that Desai was angry with Ms Kimei and wanted to get even with her.
Desai was jailed seven weeks after pleading guilty to one count of giving false information to a police officer. She could have been jailed up to a year and fined up to $5,000.
Employers just want to avoid transfer fees
Maid agencies tell The New Paper on Sunday that when a dispute happens, some employers are prone to imply that their maids are dishonest.
The most common allegation is theft.
Island Maids director Gabriel Ee says: "We have encountered many instances of employers accusing their maids of theft.
"When this happens, we take the maid under our care but all expenses such as accommodation and food will have to be borne by the client."
Maid agencies will also attempt to figure out what happened although their ability to do so is limited, says Mr Ee.
This is because in most cases, employers are unable to provide solid evidence for their accusations.
Mr Ee says: "We ask for details and evidence when they accuse the maid of theft. Most of the time, the response from the employer is they 'think' or 'feel' that the maid did it.
"In the end, it would turn out to be a miscommunication or misunderstanding over the things that went missing."
He adds that if employers have the hard evidence, such as closed-circuit television footage of the act, then the agency would advise them to go to the authorities.
But what happens if evidence is scant and it is simply one word against another?
A spokesman for Striker Employment Agency says maid agencies are poor arbitrators for such cases because the parties involved have plenty of reasons to distort the truth.
The spokesman adds: "We have seen cases where employers lie about the maids for many reasons, such as jealousy at the husband's attention to the maid.
"At the same time, there are maids who deliberately try to anger their employers in order to void their contract and return home."
Ultimately, these accusations can cause distress to maids, especially when a police report is made against them, says Mr Ee.
This is because their work permits will be cancelled and they are given a "special" pass instead, allowing them to stay in Singapore while investigations continue.
In many cases, false or unclear theft allegations get thrown around because either party - the maid or the employers - want a transfer.
Ms Christie Foo of Total Maid Agency suggests that such implications of dishonesty could be a ruse, rather than only being out of spite.
She says: "Some employers may use this type of tactics because their intention might be to have a change of maids but they do not want to pay the full cost of doing so."
For many maid agencies, employers have to pay a transfer or placement fee if they wish to have a change of maid before the contract is up.
This can cost around $300 or more, says Ms Foo.
"By saying that the maid's attitude is bad or that she stole something from them, employers hope that agencies would waive these fees."
Mr Ee agrees: "We find that when some clients want a change of maids, they put that thought in us that it is due to dishonesty and embellish their story with accounts of how the maid could have taken something.
"They may find reasons, like theft, to get the transfer costs waived."
While his agency tries to bring peace between the two parties, such as through mediation sessions, it can be an uphill task, he says.
"As a maid agency, we are caught in the crossfire," says Mr Ee.
This article was first published on March 13, 2016.
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