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WITH EFFECT FROM Sep 15, the Standard Employment Contract will be used between foreign domestic workers and their employers and a Standard Service Agreement will be used between employers and employment agencies. These new contracts will affect new arrivals and those who renew their current contracts.

Up to now, there has been no standard contract in Singapore; each agency writes its own. These contracts, some with vaguely worded terms or conditions have provided loopholes for some agents and employers to exploit the situation in which the foreign domestic workers are trapped, resulting in cases of abuse, some of which have been reported by the media.

With more of these cases being brought to light, and more cases being handled by Ministry of Manpower mediation (about 30 to 40 monthly), the ministry has engaged in discussions with the two accreditation agencies for employment agencies in a move to improve the industry's image.

This serves also to safeguard the existing diplomatic relationships between Singapore and the countries of origin of the foreign domestic workers. The big question is: Will it improve the situation for the foreign domestic workers here?

The two new standard contracts have been drawn up by CaseTrust and the Association of Employment Agencies, Singapore (AEA(S)), which certifies the approximately 500 maid employment agencies in Singapore. Agencies that are not accredited within one year of their establishment are not allowed to carry on their business.

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Contract between employer and foreign domestic worker

Here are some of the key clauses:

  • The foreign domestic worker shall work and stay in the employer's home only.

  • The foreign domestic worker shall not work for, or be required by the employer to work for, any other person.

  • The employer must state the foreign domestic worker's salary and which day of the month that it is to be paid.

  • The employer must provide at least three adequate meals a day to the foreign domestic worker, in addition to the salary.

  • The employer must state the number of hours of continuous rest (the recommended is eight hours) that the foreign domestic worker is allowed to have daily.

  • The employer must state the number of rest day(s) a month the foreign domestic worker is to be given. If the day(s) off is not taken, the foreign domestic worker must be compensated in cash as agreed by both parties.

  • The employer must make available to the foreign domestic worker at all times external communications for her to seek the advice/help of authorities or other organizations such as the employment agency, MOM, etc.

  • The foreign domestic worker must have a safe working environment.

  • Both parties must agree on the length of notice to be given (recommended time is one week) before the contract is terminated. If there is a breach in contract, no notice is required.

  • Both parties must agree on the number of days of paid home leave (including a return ticket to her city of origin) given to the foreign domestic worker if the contract is renewed at the end of two years.

  • If the foreign domestic worker does not use her leave, the employer must pay her a lump sum equal to cost of the return ticket.

  • The employer must state whether the foreign domestic worker will share a room with the children or have a separate room, or sleep somewhere else.

  • If the contract is terminated or expires, the employer must bear the cost of sending the foreign domestic worker home.

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Advocates for migrant workers such as the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI), Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), and the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) acknowledge the efforts made to clean up the industry.

However, they also question whether the move to introduce the standard contract really does anything to improve the conditions of the foreign domestic workers, and whether or not it would be better to have some clauses written into the law.

Foreign domestic workers are often classified and paid according to their nationality, but also according to their skills, qualifications, and experience.

On average, Filipino foreign domestic workers receive the highest pay at $350 a month, followed by Indonesians, Sri Lankans, and Indians. Based on the Filipinas' salary, they earn about $12 a day, or about $1 per hour. Other foreign domestic workers earn even less.

As with all contracts, the Standard Employment Contract too remains but a private agreement between two parties. If it is broken, the wronged party can attempt to seek redress in a civil court. However, the high cost and time needed to take the matter to court, coupled with the foreign domestic worker's need to work to provide for her family (and pay her debts), make it very difficult for her to seek redress and compensation.

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Hidden costs

In this competitive industry, some agencies have advertised for foreign domestic workers to be employed at little or no cost to the employer. It costs an agency about S$1,500 to bring in a foreign domestic worker from an Indonesian supplier to the employer. How then, do these employment agencies survive as a business?

If the employer is not paying, it is common sense that the one paying is the foreign domestic worker. This is why many foreign domestic workers receive only a fraction of the agreed salary for their work for the first six to eight months of their employment.

Many Singaporean employers, Catholics included, close an eye to this exploitation, feigning ignorance as they are drawn to the seemingly cheapest agencies.However, some of these agencies include hidden costs that take effect if and when a contract is breached. Employers then find themselves having to waste time and money to pay for these unforeseen costs.

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Contract between employer and agency

The Standard Service Agreement between the employer and agency is meant to make clear what is being agreed to. Here are some key clauses:

  • Before entering into an agreement, agents must show the employers a price schedule, detailing what they have to pay, and how much.

  • Agents must specify all fees and costs in the contract, such that there will be no hidden costs.

  • If the employer terminates the contract prematurely, the agency must refund the employer the placement fee which has been paid in advance, on a pro-rated basis.

  • Employers are entitled to a replacement foreign domestic worker of the same nationality and selection criteria as the previous one should the foreign domestic worker be certified medically unfit to work, fails to meet any of the MOM entry requirements, or fails to come to Singapore for whatever reason to take up the employment.

  • Employers are not entitled to a replacement if the foreign domestic worker has been ill-treated in any manner, if there has been non- payment of her salary or levy, or if she has been made to work for other family members not previously agreed on in the contract; if the employer terminates the contract and sends the foreign domestic worker home without the agency's prior knowledge; if the foreign domestic worker dies from any mishap because of the employer.

  • Agents must state, in their advertisements, the service fee that employers have to pay, placement fees for recruiting foreign domestic workers, and their policies on refunds and replacements.

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Day off / daily rest

Generally, Singapore workers are covered by the Employment Act that grants one day of rest a week.

Domestic workers, however, are not protected by the law in this matter. The main reason given is that domestic workers work in a different environment from other workers.

In the Employment Act, it is stated that employees are not required to work for more than eight hours a day. It is argued that domestic workers are allowed periods of rest during their working day, which is apparently about 16 hours. But it is also true that while she is resting, she remains on call.

As such, advocates for migrant workers have called for (A) a mandatory day off to be given to maids, and (B) the daily number of hours of continuous rest that the maid is entitled to, to be written into the law, declaring it to be a basic right of an employee in Singapore.

Ultimately, the question that we - as Christians, humans and Singaporeans - must ask ourselves, is: Do we need a law to ensure that we behave as good employers and not as slave drivers to our foreign domestic workers?

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