Philippines to probe 'budget' maids in Singapore

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will investigate reports that Singaporean agencies offer Filipino maids at “discounted” rates, like commodities, with stereotypes that promote them as “smarter” compared to “less smart” Indonesians and “compliant” Burmese.

“I am deeply concerned,” Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay said Monday, June 30, after the news agency Al Jazeera reported that maids “are put on display and made available for 'purchase' in central shopping malls” in Singapore.

“If this is true, then the domestic workers are being subjected to an indignity that should not be allowed and is, in fact, a violation of an international convention protecting the rights of migrant workers,” Binay said in a statement.

Article 10 of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families states, “No migrant worker or member of his or her family shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Philippine Labor Attaché to Singapore Vincent Cabe promised on Sunday, June 29, to investigate these reports.

 Can't monitor all agencies

In an interview with ANC on Sunday, Cabe said the government conducts an investigation “whenever we receive a report like that.”

“If we will be able to confirm through an investigation that these agencies involved are indeed conducting malpractices in their recruitment of their housemaids, then we can, as far as we are concerned, only cancel or suspend their accreditation. But if there is physical or verbal abuse or maltreatment, then we will have to refer them to the police for the individual concern,” he said.

 Cabe added: “For these particular agencies mentioned, we will call them to explain. And for those who are accredited with us, we know where their offices are, we can go there and make an inspection.”

He said the Philippines, however, can only monitor the agencies it has accredited – that is, around 200 out of the 1,000 recruitment agencies in Singapore.

DEGRADING TREATMENT? Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay says he is 'deeply concerned' after Al Jazeera reports on 'discount maids.' Screen grab from www.aljazeera.

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Philippine officials issued these statements after Al Jazeera published on Friday, June 27, a special report about maids in Singapore offered at “super promo” rates and with “special discounts.”

Quoted in the story, the head of a Singapore-based migrant workers' group said “some agencies market their domestic workers like 'commodities.'”

“Some of the stereotypes include Filipinos as 'smarter,' Indonesians as 'less bright,' and Burmese as 'sweet-natured and compliant,'” said Jolovan Wham, executive director of the Humanitarian Organization of Migration Economics, said in the Al Jazeera report.

'Underfed, overworked' workers

Other complaints involve maids “being underfed” or demonstrating their skills in malls.

The Al Jazeera report said: “Some 'maid agencies,' as they're known locally, display women at work. Along one aisle, domestic workers push each other around in wheelchairs, as though they're taking care of the elderly. In another gallery, a woman cradles a baby doll and pretends to change its diapers. Others stand in mock living rooms ironing the same shirt, or making the same bed – scenes enacted elsewhere in Singapore at malls like Katong Shopping Center on Mountbatten Road.”

Various estimates show up to 65,000 Filipinos work as domestic helpers in Singapore.

They comprise a third of Singapore's 206,000 foreign domestic helpers, who come mainly from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India, according to a report by the group Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Many of these workers labor long hours seven days a week, turn over several months of pay to settle charges imposed by employment agencies, and face restrictions on leaving the workplace even during their time off,” HRW said. (READ: Singapore's domestic workers get weekly rest day)

Singapore remains a top destination of Filipino domestic workers. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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