An activist for foreign worker rights in Singapore posted an Instagram photo of foreign domestic workers, better known locally as maids, sleeping on the cold hard floor of their employment agency to bring awareness of their plight.

His sharing brought forth a flood of complaints from former and existing foreign domestic workers who experienced such treatment at the hands of their agencies and employers.

On the photo he posted, the activist wrote on Instagram:

“This employment agency charges $15 a day while the domestic workers wait to be deployed to their employers. According to the worker who sent it to me, they had to sleep in the kitchen and were only given rice to eat. They were also barred from using mobile phones. She had to take this photograph secretly and hide her phone.

Such poor treatment is not uncommon since Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower employment agency licencing conditions do not set clear and detailed standards on how domestic workers should be treated. It only says that agencies are responsible for “upkeep and maintenance” “provision of food” and “acceptable accommodation”. Patchy and inconsistent enforcement is a likely outcome of such vagueness. Therefore, whether or not this agency will be penalised is uncertain.

There are also no policies to protect whistle blowers. If complaints are filed, the women might lose their jobs. Even with the intervention of NGOs like HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, under reporting is a huge problem due to a lack of incentives to name perpetrators. This results in unethical agencies getting away scot free.

During audit operations, the Ministry is also known to inform agencies in advance that checks will be done on their premises, giving them ample time to cover up their misdeeds. Such poor enforcement practices is one of the reasons migrant workers continue to be enslaved.”

In response, netizens like Amie Lajada Laguidao wrote of their experiences at the hands of unscrupulous employment agents.

She wrote: “Me also my previously agency we are sleeping in the kitchen then they will take the phone and money..If you complain they will said that you want work or go back philpine..then sometimes they will giving food only one time in one day…luckily when I come Singapore I got bring one pocket of biscuits and 1 pocket of coffee..then also they ask u to clean their family house and wash all those clothes of their five tenants..then clean their too much..You pay to them have deduction then you still work to them.”

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