Press Release: 5th June 2008
Day Off for Domestic Workers:
Minister's Response to Questions
Acting Minister for Manpower, Mr Gan Kim Yong, says that there is no need 'at this point' to legislate a mandatory rest day, but he also says that the Ministry of Manpower 'encourages employers to grant FDWs rest days regularly wherever possible.'
Mr Gan responded to questions from two parliamentarians concerning a mandatory day off for domestic workers on 26 May.
Nominated MP Mr Siew Kum Hong asked 'whether the Ministry intends to introduce a mandatory rest day for foreign domestic workers and, if not, why?'
MP Mdm Halimah Yacob asked the Acting Minister '(a) if he will provide an update on the progress made in securing one rest day a month for foreign domestic workers through the standard employment contracts drawn up by the Association of Employment Agencies and CaseTrust since 2006; (b) whether the Ministry is satisfied with this progress; and (c) whether the Ministry will consider legislating mandatory rest days to ensure more effective enforcement and better protection for foreign domestic workers.'
At first glance, Mr Gan Kim Yong's responses appear to restate well-established positions on the day off issue. He argues in favour of the standard contract as a means of securing rest days or compensation for domestic workers, describing it as a 'more practical' approach than legislating for a regular day off.
As long term campaigners for domestic workers' rights, TWC2 and HOME recognise some welcome elements in the Acting Minister's responses.
-Of the standard contract introduced in 2006, he says: All accredited employment agencies are required to use this standard contract. The standard contract requires employer to stipulate the number of rest days per month, and zero is not an option. Employers are also required to compensate their FDWs salary, should the FDWs work during their rest days.'
This spells out very clearly the MOM's understanding of the status and capability of the standard contract. In our work with domestic workers, both TWC2 and HOME have encountered cases of use of other contracts and evasion of the obligation to stipulate a number of rest days per month. These responses underline the obligation of agencies to use the standard contract. We would welcome a supplementary statement that agencies should not advocate denying days off to domestic workers, but be positive advocates of giving days off, as some already do.
-We are glad that the overall message of the Acting Minister's answers is pro-day off. They show that the government is not ‘abstentionist’ on the question of whether domestic workers should have time off. The statement that the Ministry of Manpower 'encourages employers to grant FDWs rest days regularly wherever possible' is a welcome affirmation of this position.
-The statement that the MOM sees no need 'at this point' to legislate a mandatory rest day indicates that this option is considered to be open if the MOM's preferred alternative of the standard contract route proves ineffectual or inadequate.
While welcoming these elements in Mr Gan Kim Yong's responses, we reiterate our view that the standard contract is an inadequate means of securing time off for all domestic workers. Unequal conditions and the weak bargaining power of domestic workers undermine its potential impact in this regard. It is our understanding that no official body is charged with monitoring and pro-actively ensuring contractual compliance. Aggrieved domestic workers would have to turn to the civil courts to pursue their claims. The resulting need to seek a lawyer’s assistance would be a strong deterrent to most, not least because of the cost. Moreover, the right of an employer to terminate unilaterally a domestic worker's employment and cancel her work permit at any time makes it easy to intimidate her, through threats of repatriation, into agreeing to work conditions that we Singaporeans would not usually find acceptable.
TWC2 and HOME have both called for a weekly day off to be mandated by law, but, for the duration of 2008, are participating in a 'day off' campaign that stresses public education and the voluntary acceptance of a regular day off for domestic workers by employers.
Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2): John Gee (President) firstname.lastname@example.org
Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME): Jolovan Wham (Executive Director) email@example.com