Myanmar temporarily suspends work permits for maids going to Singapore

YANGON - Myanmar has temporarily banned its women from working as maids in Singapore due to concerns over abuse and exploitation, an employment body in Yangon said on Saturday.

The suspension comes amid a global spotlight on the working conditions of migrant domestic helpers in Asia after reports of widespread abuse, including the case of an Indonesian maid who allegedly endured months of torture by her Hong Kong boss.

Myanmar - which only last year passed a law allowing its nationals to work as domestic helpers overseas - will impose the ban until an agreement is reached with Singapore over issues including worker rights and salary.

"We have been informed of cases of abuse and ill-treatment of Myanmar maids in Singapore... That's why we want proper protection for workers," Soe Myint Aung, a vice-chairman of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation, told AFP.

"The labour ministry has temporarily suspended permits for women until the federation signs a Memorandum of Understanding with (its counterpart in) Singapore." He did not specify when the suspension came into place but said discussions to thrash out an agreement began around a month ago.

After amending its migration law in 2013, the former junta-ruled state has officially only sent domestic helpers - most of whom are women - to Singapore and Hong Kong.

The official said there is also a suspension on permits for maids wanting to work in the southern Chinese city, which received its first official group of 19 helpers in February, but did not say when this came into effect.

The case of Indonesian maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih - whose Hong Kong employer now faces charges including grievous bodily harm with intent - triggered international concern about the treatment of domestic helpers.

Around 30,000 maids from Myanmar are thought to work both legally and illegally in affluent Singapore.

Many more are estimated to be employed without official permits in neighbouring Thailand.

Migration experts have previously warned about poor working conditions for Myanmar nationals in these roles.

The country's labour ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.