Tuesday 26 January 2016

NTUC launches centre to help domestic workers

It will give advice on employment issues, provide mediation and run helpline too
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 25 Jan 2016

When Ms Ucik Indrawati's friends go to her with their work problems, the Indonesian domestic helper tries to advise them to work things out with their employers.

For example, some have disagreements with their employers over days off. Maids are legally entitled to one day off per week or payment in lieu. But some of her friends are given neither of these, she said.

"Sometimes, they don't know how to talk to their employer about it," said the 31-year-old, who has worked for the same employer in Singapore for seven years.

Now, if Ms Ucik is unable to provide advice for their problems, she can direct her friends to a 24-hour helpline run by the new Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE). It was launched yesterday by the labour movement.

Besides employment-related advice, the CDE will provide services such as mental health counselling, legal clinics, mediation, humanitarian aid and emergency shelter.

This is part of the ongoing outreach by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to all workers of all nationalities, said labour chief Chan Chun Sing.

"The centre will also be looking at the entire system to see where we can improve (it)... so that we can have a more positive environment for our domestic employees," said Mr Chan, who is NTUC's secretary-general, at the launch event at Goldhill Centre in Thomson Road.

An advisory panel for the CDE - the Domestic Employees Stakeholders Forum - was formed to gather feedback on policies and issues about domestic workers. It includes employment agencies, non-government organisations and employers of maids, and will meet quarterly.

The CDE currently has five staff members, including former Manpower Ministry officers and NTUC staff who speak English and Bahasa Indonesia. It is recruiting staff with other language capabilities, as well as volunteers from the various home countries of domestic helpers. It has one from Myanmar now.

The centre is receiving seed funding from the Government and will set up the Domestic Employee Welfare Fund to raise funds for operations and assistance to foreign domestic workers.

We're an all CAN labour movement! C = collarsA = ages N = nationalities We have the UCare Centre for our low wage...
Posted by Chan Chun Sing on Saturday, January 23, 2016

CDE chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said at a media briefing last Wednesday that the centre would cater mostly to foreign domestic workers, of whom there are around 227,100 here now. The figure is projected to grow to 300,000 by 2030.

Other domestic workers number from 3,000 to 5,000 and include drivers, gardeners and part-time domestic workers, he said.

On the CDE's agenda are raising awareness of employment rights and holding workshops to promote good employment practices.

It will visit some source countries with employment agency associations to understand the issues foreign domestic workers face before they arrive. It is also in discussions with embassies on what more can be done to ensure the expectations of maids and employers match.

Mr Yeo, who is also NTUC assistant secretary-general, said he believes employers will be more receptive to mediation efforts by the centre, as they are mostly workers themselves and have been exposed to the union's work.

Mr Yeo also chairs the Migrant Workers' Centre, which helps non-domestic foreign workers.

Mr William Chew, executive director of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training - one of the members of the stakeholders' forum - said he was glad to see another organisation offer support and counselling services for domestic helpers.

"It's about many helping hands. We hope the new centre can plug some gaps and serve more people," he said.

The CDE will be open from 10am to 6pm on Tuesdays to Sundays, except public holidays. The toll free helpline is 1800-CALL-CDE (1800-2255-233).

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