Singapore

Country Profile



Facts & Figures

There are 252,600 active migrant domestic workers by 2020 in Singapore.¹ This is 4.4% of the country's total population² and 7.3% of the country's labor force.³ One in five families in Singapore employs a migrant domestic worker. Most migrant domestic workers come from Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines. The rising number of migrant domestic workers has led to a strict control of transient workforce, as the workers are seen as a potential social threat to Singapore's society. However, Singapore is not willing to enter binding bilateral labor agreements to regulate migration with other origin governments and has not ratified most of the international conventions on migrant domestic work. Therefore, migrant domestic workers highly depend on the country's legislative regulations.

When entering Singapore as a migrant domestic worker, they receive a work permit which is based on a 2-year period emploment contract. Thus, their work permit is tied to their prospective employer and employer's address. During the stay, the work-permit can be cancelled anytime by the employer and only renewed by the sponsor, agent or employer.7

Complaints

The case of 33-year-old Fitriyah from Indonesia, a domestic worker, is an example of the life-threatening challenges faced by domestic workers in Singapore. Fitiyah was slapped, beaten and abused with empty plastic bottles. She was forced to kneel and stand up 100 times in front of a Buddhist altar while being slapped by her employer.8

Another case in Singapore shows how a migrant domestic worker was made to lose 40% of her weight by her employer who set the scale at 29 kg.9

Abuse cases reported by domestic workers are often not brought to court. The lack of evidence of abusive behaviour by the employer is the biggest challenge in reporting abuse.10

Resources

  • The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics empowers and supports migrant workers who experience abuse and exploitation

  • FAST is an association focusing on migrant domestic workers and providing work life balance, social support and lifelong learning.

  • Center for Domestic Employees is an initiative promoting fair treatment of all domestic workers though different approach such as a free helpline and training courses.

  • Aware Singapore stands in for gender equity using research and advocacy, education and support service.

  • Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) supports low-wage migrant workers when facing challanges.

  • HealthServe is a NGO providing healing and hope to migrant workers.

Legal Framework

Although Singapore is a member state of the United Nations, the country has not ratifed most conventions such as the Domestic Workers Convention No. 189 which refer to migrant domestic workers rights. Moreover, migrant domestic workers are not covered by the Singapore Employment Act, which sets standards for working hours, number of rest days and other regulations.11

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) developed a Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers by 2007. The declaration aimed to ensure binding rights for migrant domestic workers. In 2017, a non-binding Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers highlighted the need to improve the rights of migrant workers. However, the consensus is based on non-binding principles, which has led to the absence of legal labour standards.12

Singapore has successfully implemented the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women since 1995. The convention aims to eradicate discrimination within the female workforce. While this is not directly related to migrant domestic workers, it serves as a basis for NGOs advocating for the labour rights of migrant domestic workers.13

According to the Ministry of Manpower (Singapore Government) a migrant domestic worker must align to the following criterias:

  • Female gender

  • Aged 23 to 50 years during work permit application (renewal of work permit only possibly until 60)

  • From approved souce country: Bangaldesh, Cambodia, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand

  • Mimimum of 8 years formal education14

Migrant domestic workers must receive one weekly rest day. Moreover, an adequate accomodation is required including seperate room with a safe place to sleep. Basic ameties like a mattress, pillows and blankets must be provided. The migrant domestic worker is entitled to three meals a day. Thus, working conditions must be safe, while any hopitalization and medical care is beard by the employer.15

The legal framework for immigrants does not provide comprehensive protection for migrant domestic workers. However, there are criminal provisions to punish abusive behaviour by employers.16

SOURCES

  1. Data.gov.sg (2020). Foreign Workforce Numbers, Annual. Foreign Domestic worker. https://data.gov.sg/dataset/foreign-workforce-numbers-annual?resource_id=e5274807-bcc7-4d37-b39f-ab06fec24647
  2. World Bank (2020). Population, total Singapore. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=SG
  3. World Bank (2020). Labor force, total Singapore. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.IN?locations=SG
  4. Yeoh, B. S. A., Goh, C. & Wee, K. (2020). Social Protection for Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore: International Conventions, the Law, and Civil Society Action. American Behavioral Scientist, 64(6), 841-858. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0002764220910208
  5. Yeoh, B. S. A., & Annadhurai, K. (2008). Civil Society Action and the Creation of “Transformative” Spaces for Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore. Women’s Studies, 37(5), 548–569. https://doi.org/10.1080/00497870802165502
  6. Yeoh, B. S. A., Goh, C. & Wee, K. (2020). Social Protection for Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore: International Conventions, the Law, and Civil Society Action. American Behavioral Scientist, 64(6), 841-858. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0002764220910208
  7. ibid.
  8. ibid.
  9. ibid.
  10. ibid.
  11. ibid.
  12. ibid.
  13. ibid.
  14. ibid.
  15. Ministry of Manpower (2021). Work Permit for migrant domestic worker. https://www.mom.gov.sg/passes-and-permits/work-permit-for-foreign-domestic-worker
  16. Yeoh, B. S. A., Goh, C. & Wee, K. (2020). Social Protection for Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore: International Conventions, the Law, and Civil Society Action. American Behavioral Scientist, 64(6), 841-858. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0002764220910208