No end to maid horror stories, after all these years

SINGAPORE - Made to sleep in the kitchen on just a mattress, getting slapped and pushed, and forced to eat leftover food.

Foreign domestic workers have been there, done that.

In Parliament yesterday, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin revealed that the ministry assisted fewer than 500 foreign domestic workers last year, mostly for salary disputes and illegal deployment.

But the problems go deeper.

One 40-year-old Indonesian maid was accused by her former employer of stealing a box.

"She didn't give me food for two days, and pushed me. She was screaming at me, until she found the box," she told My Paper. She was puzzled because, as far as she knew, the box was empty.

Her employer later apologised. The maid stayed on with the family for two years because she was close to the two children she took care of.

Mr Martin Silva, managing consultant of Happy Maids Happy Home, recalled another case in which a maid was made to sleep in the same room as 12 men from China who were renting it.

Slapping, pushing and other forms of physical abuse are also common, he said.

The three cases involving maids who allegedly killed their employers in recent months have cast a negative spotlight on domestic workers.

But there can be nightmare employers too, said Mr Silva.

"When employers look for a maid, they get to see her history. But we don't know anything about the employers," he said.

On the flip side, there are maids who take advantage of their freedom and care shown by their employers.

One such employer, Mrs H. Q. Wang, found to her horror that her domestic worker of two years had worn not only her clothes, but also her underwear, and taken photographs of herself in them and uploaded these photos on Facebook.

There have also been instances of maids stealing money and abusing children.

Employers may choose to change their maids for a fee, and there is redress available to maids as well.

Ms Valli Pillai, a case worker from Home, a group that helps migrant workers, said that she has about 10 maids approaching her for help every week.

Ms Valli said she most commonly encounters cases where employers do not pay their maids.

She also frequently deals with maids who have been physically abused.

While some employment agencies help maids deal with their problems, some are more interested in getting the maids to continue working so they can pay off their loans, she said.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) also provides help through its helpline, which domestic workers are made to memorise.

MOM also keeps in touch with first-time maids.

Members of the public with information on suspected infringements or offences involving foreign domestic workers may call 6438-5122.

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