Myanmar government ban fails to stop maids heading here

SINGAPORE - Maids from Myanmar are still coming to work in Singapore, defying a ban imposed by their government.

Myanmar has barred its citizens from working in the Republic for five months unless agencies in Singapore sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU). It took the action last Monday after reports about ill-treatment of Myanmar maids in Singapore.

Maid agencies feared numbers from Myanmar would drop, but they now say the ban is not being enforced strictly. About 50 domestic helpers a day have been arriving here in the past week - similar to numbers before the ban.

"It has been business as usual for us," said Ms Kerri Tan, a director at one of Singapore's largest Myanmar maid agencies, United Channel.

Association of Employment Agencies Singapore president K. Jayaprema said the MOU is being looked at. "We need to ensure that the interests of Singapore agents are protected too," she added.

Maids from Myanmar are typically paid $400 to $430 a month. They can go without wages for up to eight months to cover the recruitment fees.

They make up the fastest-growing group of domestic workers here. Their number has grown by 50 per cent over the past two years, from about 20,000 to more than 30,000.

Demand has gone up because they are cheaper to hire than Indonesians or Filipinos. The Philippine and Indonesian governments have mandated minimum monthly wages of $500 and $450 respectively for maids from their countries.

While more Myanmar maids are coming to Singapore, a rising number are also running away from their employers' homes. Migrant worker activists told The Straits Times previously that the women were discouraged by having to pay off large loans.

Singapore agencies said that fees paid to agents in Myanmar could go up in the meantime, with some asking for $300 more. Recruitment fees for Myanmar maids already come to about $3,000, given the lack of enforcement of rules in Myanmar.

Mr Tay Khoon Beng, owner of Best Home Employment Agency, said: "Myanmar agencies say it is hard to bring the maids here, but they are just using the opportunity to earn more."

Other agents said some airport officials in Myanmar are asking for bribes of US$50 (S$63) a maid to let them board flights to Singapore.

"The extra fees will be passed on to the maids, and their loans will go up," said Mr Tay.

"They are on the losing end."

Ms Jayaprema agreed that the recruitment fees must be reduced.

"The Myanmar government has to limit the fees that their recruitment agents charge, and it must enforce the rules. If not, the problem will just go on," she said.

This article was first published on September 29, 2014.
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