At least three Cambodians who have travelled to work as maids in Singapore since August last year as part of a pilot scheme have complained to worker welfare groups there about employer abuse and poor working conditions, including molestation and the slapping of a worker.
In the most serious case, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a Singapore-based NGO, said that it assisted a maid to change employers after she was forced to sleep in the same room as an elderly man who sexually abused her.
“She claimed that she was not given her own sleeping space, but was made to share a room with an old man, who molested her,” said John Gee, TWC2’s spokesman.
“We assisted her to get a transfer. She did not make an official complaint of molestation, because she thought that it might lead to problems for her and that she might not get a transfer if it was known that she’d complained about previous employer.”
Another worker complained to an affiliate of TWC2 about underpayment, Gee said.
The Singapore-based Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) said it had received one complaint from a Cambodian maid who said she was slapped by her employer’s mother, but lost touch with her soon after.
“We can only [file a complaint to police] with her permission. In any case, we lost contact with her,” HOME executive director Jolovan Wham said.
The Cambodian Embassy in Singapore did not comment yesterday so it is unknown whether more complaints were filed directly with the embassy.
Labour Ministry officials said they could not comment.
Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had not received any complaints from Cambodian maids alleging abuse, a spokesperson said.
“The [ministry] interviews all Cambodian FDWs [foreign domestic workers] in the early stages of their employment. MOM has not received complaints relating to abuse or salary withholding involving Cambodian FDWs.
“We will take a tough stance against errant employers who mistreat foreign workers, including those in domestic employment. Complaints of physical abuse will be referred to the police for investigation.”
A pilot program signed by MOM and the Cambodian government was supposed to see 400 Cambodian women arrive in Singapore by this February, but only 220 have thus far arrived.
Lao Ly Hock, general manager at Philimore Cambodia, a recruitment agency, said that only a small number of maids sent to Singapore had encountered problems.
“Some cases have been misunderstandings, and we have talked together [to try and resolve issues] with the maid and the employer,” he said, adding that four maids have returned to Cambodia due to medical issues and “homesickness”.
“This is always going to happen. We cannot make this perfect, with 100 per cent [of placements successful]. But until today there have not been any serious cases for me . . . the feedback is very good.”
Nation Employment, a Singapore agency, said that while 15 maids of 83 it had placed with employers had already changed households, it had not received any reports of mistreatment.