Monday 27 October 2014

More foreign domestic workers say they do not get enough to eat

By Chang May Choon, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2014

JUST two months after she started working for her new employer in August, Anya saw her weight drop to 47kg - a loss of 9kg.

The 29-year-old domestic worker gets a slice of bread for breakfast, bread or instant noodles for lunch, and rice with only vegetables for dinner.

"I'd hide in the toilet and cry because I was so hungry and upset," said the Filipino, who did not want to give her full name.

"I'm scared to ask for more food, because the auntie is always nagging about the peanut butter finishing so fast," she added.

While the malnourishment of foreign maids here is not a new problem, it might have grown worse, say advocacy groups.

As many as eight in 10 domestic workers who seek help from the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) do not get enough food, said Ms Valli Pillai, its director of case work. Home said it saw a 20 per cent rise in complaints about poor or insufficient food from 2012 to last year.

Mr John Gee, head of research at migrant workers group Transient Workers Count Too, said it gets cases of inadequate food on a "regular basis", noting that it is a "less obvious form of abuse".

Agencies claim that cases of hungry maids are rare, but The Straits Times did not have to look too hard to find examples.

Ms Grace Rondon, 28, lost 20kg in half a year after arriving in Singapore this January.

The Filipino maid went from 94kg to 74kg toiling long hours with not enough to eat. "If I'm hungry, I'd just drink water," she said, adding that she "didn't dare to ask for biscuits or more food because I was scared they would get angry or scold me. And they have cameras in the kitchen".

Food is a sensitive subject to broach, say employment agencies and activists. The kitchen may be well-stocked, but not necessarily accessible to the maid.

Unlike in Hong Kong, where employers are legally obliged to provide free food or give a monthly food allowance of HK$964 (S$158), Singapore's Ministry of Manpower says only that employers should provide "adequate food". But observers say it is debatable how much is "adequate". Also, should the onus be on maids to ask for more food or should employers be more sensitive to the needs of maids.

Homekeeper's managing director Carene Chin said maids should be "smart enough" to ask for an extra helping of food.

"If you're scared and don't dare to ask, you should not complain that your employer is not kind enough," she said, adding that maids can always stock up on extra food on their days off.

But Home executive director Jolovan Wham said employers give maids "psychological stress" when they hint that the rice is disappearing fast. "They are afraid of losing their jobs as the employer can repatriate them easily."

And there is some misunderstanding on employers' part about how maids seem to eat a lot of rice, say observers.

Employers and workers told The Straits Times that maids generally eat two to three times more rice and bread than their employers, as they need the carbohydrates for their physical chores.

Home's Ms Valli said employers "have to see to [the maids'] needs first and give them time to adjust, instead of saying, 'This is Singapore, get used to it' ".

While Anya still struggles with hunger pangs, Ms Rondon could not bear them and asked to go home after six months; all her salary went towards paying off fees owed to her agent.

But she is back in Singapore, working for another family and feels "so happy to be fed again".

Be more aware of needs of maids

FOREIGN domestic workers are different from employees in corporate settings as they are fully involved in families' domestic matters ("Food for thought: Maids' sustenance"; last Saturday).

Their work and personal lives are inseparable, and whatever they do is closely monitored, including their rest time, interactions with other people and how much they eat.

Lawmakers should recognise that legislation is too blunt a tool to regulate the welfare of foreign domestic workers. For example, the Ministry of Manpower requires employers to provide them with "adequate food", but this guideline is very vague and subjective.

The Government should pair these regulations with programmes to raise awareness of the needs of foreign domestic workers, and what employers can do to help them.

Domestic workers need more food because of their physical exertions.

Those who do not ask for more food may be afraid of offending their employers. Moreover, the threat of repatriation constantly looms over them, contributing to their silence.

Employers and families should put in greater effort to understand and care for their domestic workers, while keeping in mind cultural differences such as eating habits.

Being understanding is the bare minimum. Employers should do what is right and fair, and extend compassion to foreign domestic workers.

Yu Kexin (Ms)
ST Forum, 29 Oct 2014

Inadequate food for maids: No increase in reported cases

WE REFER to the article "Food for thought: Maids' sustenance" (Oct 25) and the letter "Be more aware of needs of maids" (Oct 29).

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has not seen an increase in the number of complaints from foreign domestic workers (FDWs) over inadequate food, contrary to the 20 per cent increase cited by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) in the report. A survey conducted among more than 900 FDWs showed that over 99 per cent had sufficient food to eat daily.

This is consistent with MOM's experience, where complaints about inadequate food are made by less than 0.1 per cent of the total FDW population in Singapore, and is declining.

In the overwhelming majority of these complaints, MOM found that there was no deliberate withholding of food. Usually, the FDWs were unaccustomed to taking certain types of food or the smaller food portions provided, but had not told their employers. These cases were amicably resolved following clarifications between the FDWs and their employers.

Notwithstanding the small number of complaints, MOM takes any form of ill-treatment of FDWs seriously, and will look into all suspected offences. Where substantiated, the FDW can look for an alternative employer. Employers who fail to provide FDWs with adequate food may be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months.

We also educate new employers and FDWs during the mandatory Employer's Orientation Programme (EOP) and Settling-In Programme (SIP) respectively. During the EOP, employers are given pointers on how to communicate with their FDWs to better understand their needs and build a good employment relationship, including the importance of providing a balanced diet to their FDWs and what it comprises.

At the SIP, FDWs are informed that their employers should provide them three meals daily, and to tell their employers if they are still hungry. They are also aware that they may need to adjust to local eating habits.

FDWs who need help for well-being issues are reminded to call the MOM FDW Helpline on 1800-339-5505.

Anyone with information on suspected offences involving FDWs can also write in to or call MOM on (65) 6438-5122.

We are awaiting the details of the FDWs mentioned in the article who were allegedly provided with inadequate meals. We will investigate and take action if required.

Kevin Teoh
Divisional director
Foreign Manpower Management Division
Ministry of Manpower
ST Forum, 3 Nov 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment