Psychological tests impractical, unfair

Living with a mentally unsound domestic helper has ended in tragedies for some families.

But those active in migrant worker advocacy are against including psychological assessments in the mandatory medical check-up that all foreign domestic workers undergo before they are allowed to work in Singapore.

Mr Jolovan Wham, a social worker for migrant labour issues, called the idea "unfair" and "discriminatory".

He said: "I don't think that's right. Most companies don't demand psychological assessments when hiring. Why should domestic helpers be singled out?"

Mr Wham added that this could add to the stigma that foreign domestic workers are often troublemakers.

Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, a board member of migrant workers group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), agreed.

Psychological tests should not be a part of any employment screening process, she said.

MANAGEABLE

"It's not as if people who are suffering this kind of mental illness are not able to function. The illness can be managed," she said.

"What would be more important is for employers to really look out for signs since they are the ones in close contact with them."

The managing director of a maid agency said that such tests are impractical.

It is too costly to send every maid for a mental assessment and "the cost will be passed to the customers," she said.

The director, who has been in the line for 20 years but declined to be named, said her agency gets around this problem with a "cheaper and more sensible" solution: observation.

"At any point we notice something, be it during her interview or training, we will immediately send her home," she said.

"Even if she has been selected by an employer, we will not take the risk."

Sometimes, a stressful working environment "exacerbates" a maid's mental conditions, Dr Noorashikin said.

The root cause of such an environment lies in the lack of the employers' trust in their maids.

"They have to be a little more open-minded in allowing domestic workers to have a day off, have friends and to contact their families," she said.

"It's part and parcel of employing someone. You cannot expect a person not to have a life just because they work for you."

Mr Wham agreed that allowing maids to socialise will help "take their minds off work".

"The line drawn between their work and their leisure is blurred. They could be on call 24 hours, so psychologically, they are always at work," he said.

Helplines for distressed migrant workers

Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training

1800-339-4357

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics

1800-7-977-977

Transient Workers Count Too

1800-888-1515

Ministry of Manpower

1800-339-5505

Maids who killed

In these two cases, the original murder charges were dropped to manslaughter due to the mental state of the accused, as certified by psychiatrists.

OCTOBER 2005

Indonesian maid Barokah, then 28, knocked her employer, Madam Wee Keng Wah, out cold after the latter chided her.

When her husband left the flat to get help, Madam Wee was killed after Barokah shoved her out of a window.

Psychiatrists diagnosed her as moderately depressed.

In 2009, the Court of Appeal dismissed her appeal against her life imprisonment sentence.

SEPTEMBER 2005

Filipino maid Guen Garlejo Aguilar, then 30, killed a fellow maid who owed her $2,000.

Aguilar hid the body in her room inside a luggage bag for two days before dismembering the body and dumping the parts near the Orchard MRT station and at MacRitchie Reservoir.

She was jailed for 10 years in May 2006 for manslaughter after the original murder charge was dropped when she was found to be mentally unsound at the time of the killing.


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