Manila looking into reports of maids in Singapore being put on display

The Philippines is looking into reports that some Singapore maid agencies are putting the women "on display" at malls and treating them like "commodities".

Foreign affairs department spokesman Charles Jose yesterday said the Philippine embassy in Singapore may file a police report "if reports of maltreatment and abuse are validated".

An Al Jazeera report last Friday said some maid agencies were displaying women from the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar like "commodities" at malls.

It mentioned Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Katong Shopping Centre which, the report said, had rooms and galleries where dozens of women sit beneath "garish signs and posters testifying to their friendliness and industriousness" and offering "super promo" rates and "special discounts".

Mr Jose said that while the maid agencies' operations are legitimate, "we have to look into the manner in which they are promoting their business".

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Singapore-based Humanitarian Organisation of Migration Economics, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying some agencies were advertising maids like "commodities".

He said the women were being racially profiled, with Filipinos described as "smarter", Indonesians "less bright", and Myanmar nationals "sweet-natured and compliant".

However, the Philippine embassy's labour attache Vicente Cabe told The Straits Times that he went to Bukit Timah Shopping Centre last Saturday, and it was his opinion that the Al Jazeera report "doesn't seem to have basis".

He said he saw some maids sitting on one side of a room at some agencies, waiting to be interviewed by clients, "and it seems a bit exaggerated to say that there is anything wrong with that".

He said some of the more than 50 maid agencies at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre had "training centres" and "teaching rooms", and these could be the "aisles" and "galleries" that Al Jazeera was referring to when it described women pretending to do housework such as ironing shirts and making beds.

The action being taken by the Philippines came after Vice-President Jejomar Binay, presidential adviser on the welfare of Filipinos abroad, told the embassy in Singapore earlier in the day to look into the Al Jazeera report.

Mr Binay, a former human rights lawyer, said he was "deeply concerned" after reading the report. He also said he believes the Singapore authorities "will act on the matter once it is brought to their attention".

There are about 210,000 women, 70,000 of them Filipinos, working as maids in Singapore, according to the National Committee for UN Women, Singapore.

This article was first published on Julu 01, 2014.
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