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Friday, 15 January 2010

Migrant domestic worker abuse is, I knew, a problem in the Middle East. In countries like Lebanon, migrant domestic workers routinely have their passports taken away and their movements restricted by abusive employers. If a female migrant domestic worker is raped, she has no recourse to the law.

These things I've read at another time. But similar problems exist, it seems, in Asian countries that commonly employ migrant domestic workers, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, according to a study by Human Rights Watch.

Almost 150 deaths of migrant domestic workers in Singapore over a 6-year period from suicide or workplace accidents, have been studied. Many workers died when they fell from apartments, having been asked to clean windows or perform other outside tasks where no safety precautions were in place to protect them.

Other workers committed suicide. It is common for the movements of migrant domestic workers to be restricted by Singaporean employers, who pay them a pittance to work as virtual slaves. Employers are reluctant to entrust their children to the care of migrant domestic workers, assuming that they are incapable of taking responsibility for their welfare.

But more substantial abuse is also widespread, it seems.

Interviews with government officials, embassy officials, aid organizations, domestic workers, and employment agents suggest that causes of these falls likely include suicide and hazardous workplace conditions. Isolation at the workplace, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures are all factors that may contribute to anxiety and depression.

Employers may prevent migrant domestic workers from using the telephone or from talking with their compatriots in neighbouring houses. Some migrant domestic workers boast how they hide mobile phones from their employers as a last resort.

While compensation may be levied on employers in cases where a fall was due to an inappropriate request, in cases of suicide there is none.

No compensation is offered in cases of suicide, and as the woman quoted above suggests, women who attempt suicide face possible criminal prosecution.

Some employers illegally take away residency papers in addition to passports.

It seems that being a migrant domestic worker in the economic paradise of Singapore is no simple task!

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