Monday, 2 November 2015

Do 'maid cameras' cross the line?

They do when they are put up in areas which infringe on maid's privacy, say MOM, TWC2
By Kok Xing Hui and Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 1 Nov 2015

Like many maids in Singapore, Ms Dewie, 27, came here for a bigger pay cheque to support her young children. She could endure the backbreaking hours, even the repeated scoldings, but what made her decide to leave was the closed-circuit television camera in the toilet.

"Why are you taking so long in the toilet? Why are you using my shampoo and not yours?" her employer would ask, despite not being home at that time. Ms Dewie, whose story was recounted by non-governmental organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), then checked the toilet and found a tiny camera hidden in a corner.

It is not uncommon for employers in Singapore to use CCTV cameras to keep an eye on their maids, especially those left at home with the elderly or young children.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, October 31, 2015

It is not uncommon for employers here to use closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to keep an eye on their maids, especially those left at home with the elderly or young children. They use CCTVs to deter their maids from abusing family members or to ensure that no strangers enter their homes.

But a line is crossed when these cameras are put up in private areas, said the authorities and advocacy groups for foreign workers.

"CCTVs should not be installed in areas that will compromise the FDWs' (foreign domestic workers') privacy, for example, where they sleep, change their clothes or the bathroom area," said a spokesman for the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). "All employers must respect the privacy of their employees, including foreign domestic workers who work and reside in their employers' homes."

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), said his group believes the presence of surveillance cameras where the maid sleeps and rests should be outlawed.

"Even if the domestic worker is sharing her room with the children or the elderly, such cameras should not be allowed because everyone has a right to his privacy," he said.

Currently, it is not illegal for employers to install cameras in bedrooms and toilets as there are no privacy laws here, said lawyers. But if surveillance is done in areas where the worker undresses, this could constitute an outrage of modesty.

The MOM spokesman said: "In the event that such complaints are brought to our attention, we will advise the employers to take down the CCTV. Should the cases involve insulting of modesty, these will be referred to the police," she said.

She added that complaints of intrusion of privacy are very rare.

But welfare groups that work with migrant workers say they get numerous complaints from maids about employers monitoring them in their private spaces.

"It is a significant problem because in a week, at least one domestic worker who approaches us for help has reported the existence of surveillance cameras in the house or her room," said Mr Wham.

A survey by Home of 670 maids this year showed one in five of them had surveillance cameras in her room. But workers such as Ms Dewie often choose not to report such infringements because they fear losing their jobs. She was repatriated a week after her employers found out last year she was talking to TWC2.

TWC2 board member Shelley Chio said: "Sometimes, the maids end up blaming us out of frustration, when their cases are not settled after three or four months. But my concern is: What if it happens to the next maid the employers hire?"

There were 218,300 foreign maids in Singapore as of June last year, which means that about one in five families here hires one.

Maid agencies said they have received complaints about CCTVs from maids. Said Mr Benny Liew, director of Comfort Employment: "CCTVs are so common nowadays that maids are used to them, so fewer come to us about it. But we have done transfers for maids who are uncomfortable with the cameras.

"Usually, employers will take down the cameras in private areas after we warn them. But there are grey areas such as cameras installed outside their rooms but (which are) pointing in the direction of their rooms."

He said those who install cameras at home should inform their maids.

Ms Alison Chung, 35, who works in the media industry, initially used a camera that looks like an adaptor. However, she has since switched to a standard surveillance camera.

"I installed it in my son's room after I... found my helper treating my son a little too rough for my liking," said Ms Chung, whose son was eight months old at that time.

"But I believe employers should be honest with their helpers if they do have CCTVs at home. They should show their helpers where the cameras are located and explain their reasons for having the cameras, so helpers know it isn't for spying but to monitor the children."

Ms Susanto (not her real name), a 27-year-old maid, said: "I think cameras outside our private spaces are okay, though that says a lot about the lack of trust. But for those that violate our personal space, they... cause us a lot of mental stress."

Parent heart-broken to see video of maid kicking his 2-year-old child Watch the full video here:
Posted by Stomp Straits Times on Thursday, October 15, 2015

* Maid jailed 4 months for ill-treating kids
By Elena Chong, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Jan 2016

An Indonesian maid kicked the thigh of her employers' 23-month- old daughter for refusing to finish her food, and slapped the back of their baby boy when he started crying while feeding him.

This was captured on closed-circuit TV, which her employer installed at home after the 29-year- old noticed scratch marks on his daughter's arms last May, after the maid started working for the family.

Yesterday, Khaerun Nisa Selfitriya, 28, was sentenced to four months in jail for ill-treating the children in a flat in Woodlands on Oct 14 last year.

A district court heard that on that day, Khaerun Nisa was feeding the children when the girl refused to finish her food. When she told the girl to finish her food, the toddler vomited and started to cry.

Khaerun Nisa then kicked her on the left thigh forcefully, causing her to fall and hit her head.

Further investigation showed that about 10 minutes earlier, she was feeding the eight-month-old baby when he started crying. She shouted "No!'' and slapped his back several times.

Both incidents were captured on CCTV. The children's father lodged a police report the next day.

Domestic worker kicked employer's 23-month-old daughter when the toddler refused to finish her food. She also slapped...
Posted by The Straits Times on Sunday, January 3, 2016

When questioned about her relationship with her employers, Khaerun Nisa told the police that she had been treated well, and was even taken to China for a holiday.

But her lawyer, Mr Nasser Ismail, said the maid, who has four daughters aged three to 11, was derided by her employers for no reason and became paranoid and depressed.

He said she was "depressed, scared and confused'' at the time of the offence and missed her children, especially the three-year-old, as she had not had any news from them since she started work.

"The accused admitted that she had reached a breaking point when she lost her mind on that fateful day,'' he said.

Mr Nasser further told the court his client had never intended to harm the children and had not harmed them.

He said that the baby boy was choking on his food, so she used her left hand to "slap'' him on the back a few times.

Khaerun Nisa, whose sentence was backdated to Oct 16, could have been fined up to $4,000 and jailed for up to four years on each charge.

The children's father, who has hired a new maid for the family, told The Straits Times yesterday: "Of course, I want justice to be served, but I don't want to dwell on her sentence. It doesn't matter how long she is sentenced for. As long as my kids are fine, that is all that matters.

"I will let go of this case and move on. My kids are also much better emotionally. They are not traumatised and they are very happy now."

Additional reporting by Lim Yi Han

Invasion of privacy or just a precaution?
By Janice Tai, The Sunday Times, 1 Nov 2015

The three closed-circuit television cameras in her employer's house were not just for keeping a close eye on her. Their attached audio speakers were used to bark commands at the maid.

So, Ms Susanto (not her real name) could be asleep when a voice from a camera speaker would instruct her to "wake up and boil water for the baby". Or the 27-year-old could be texting her friends while winding down for the day when a shout would come: "Go and sleep now!"

The 24-hour surveillance, coupled with the beck-and-call routine, became a bit too much for Ms Susanto, who had worked for the family for the past seven months. Last month, she flew back home to the Philippines after failing to find another employer to transfer to.

In late September, she had lodged a complaint with the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) over the cameras and having to clean two houses. "There was no privacy, and I could not rest properly," Ms Susanto told The Sunday Times.

The cameras were placed in the kitchen, living room and the room where she slept with a newborn baby. Her employer, who is in her 30s, viewed the footage on her smartphone. "I know I am being watched because when I sing in the kitchen, I can hear my voice coming from the phone that she is looking at while sitting on the sofa outside," said Ms Susanto.

She did not want to be identified as she feared being blacklisted by the employer. She hopes to return to Singapore to work one day.

She added that she knew of another maid who left her employer recently for similar reasons, after working for the family for two years. Her friend had found a hidden camera on the door rack next to where she changed clothes.

Ms Susanto said her employer told her the cameras were a precaution to protect the baby. "I feel so sad because there was no trust, so why did they hire me then?" asked the single mother of a five-year-old son. "My priority had always been the household and the baby."

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