Citing concerns about exploitation, the government has ceased granting permits for domestic servants to work in Singapore for the foreseeable future. The announcement represents a stark change of policy, as hundreds of Myanmar maids are already working in Singapore
Citing concerns about exploitation, the government has ceased granting permits for domestic servants to work in Singapore for the foreseeable future. The announcement represents a stark change of policy, as hundreds of Myanmar maids are already working in Singapore and the labour department was preparing as recently as late August to sign a new agreement with the Singaporean government that would have seen up to 1000 maids sent to the city-state each month.
U Soe Myint Aung, vice-chair of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agency Federation (MOEAF), said the government was concerned about reports of exploitation. “The ministry wants stricter supervision of agencies employing domestic workers” he said.
Many migrant advocacy groups have criticised the government for not doing more to protect local domestic workers from the exploitation and abuse that they say are common in Singapore.
However, the ban applies only to domestic workers. U Soe Myint Aung confirmed that construction workers and others could continue to work in Singapore, which is home to an estimated 100,000 Myanmar expatriates.
Several employment agencies contacted by The Myanmar Times estimated that dozens of Myanmar construction workers arrive in Singapore every month, though the number of undocumented workers is much higher.
The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), a Singapore-based rights group, has released several reports detailing the harsh conditions migrant construction workers in Singapore face, including debt bondage, squalid accommodation and unsafe work sites.
“[Singapore is] so dependent on low-wage migrant labour, but the problem … is that the government is not willing to match that with adequate social support and uphold basic human rights,” said Jolovan Wham, executive director of HOME.
U Soe Myint Aung said that both MOEAF and the government were looking to sign agreements in the coming year to send migrant workers to Macau and mainland China, where they would work in the construction and hospitality sectors.
The UN and human rights groups have documented rampant abuses of migrant workers in Macau and China.
“Diversifying the countries that workers can migrate to for work is generally a good strategy, but it does also require good mechanisms to ensure the protection of workers’ rights,” said Jaqueline Pollack, an International Labour Organization migration expert.
“These mechanisms, which are not in place in most countries, include … labour attachés, monitoring systems for employment agencies and employers in both country of origin and destination, systems to deal with abuse and exploitation and to repatriate workers when necessary,” she said.