By Koh Hui Theng
The New Paper
Sunday, Mar 04, 2012
By day, Siti (not her real name), cooked and cleaned her employer's house.
By night, the 30-year-old Indonesian maid continued her work, cleaning her employer's massage parlour.
Her duties included washing used towels, cleaning massage beds and scrubbing toilets. Often, she had to sleep over there too.
This went on for about five months.
Tired and afraid, Siti eventually confided in her employer's neighbour, who advised her to call the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
While cases like hers still exist, the good news is that the number of cases involving the illegal deployment of maids is falling.
A MOM spokesman said there are 206,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore.
In 2008, 151 people were convicted of illegal deployment of maids.
For the first six months of last year, the figure dropped to just 36.
The decrease was due to ongoing enforcement and public outreach efforts, MOM's spokesman added.
In Siti's case, she had spent the last seven years doing housework for different employers in Singapore before working for her last family.
So it was "bad luck" she ended up working at a massage parlour, she told A. Pratama Employment Agency's general manager Desmond Phoon.
Mr Phoon, who got wind of Siti's case, did not know what had happened to her employer. He said Siti was cleared of wrongdoing and now works for another Singaporean family.
President of the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), Ms K. Jayaprema, said agencies are getting stricter with employers as they do not want to aid or abet any wrongdoing.
"In the past, employers were not so aware. They didn't see taking their workers to help out in their in-laws' (homes) as illegal deployment. But we caution the employers against doing so."
MOM's spokesman told The New Paper that foreign domestic workers can work only at the address stated in their work permits.
Some agents like Ms Lilian Pang, manager of 1 Astar Employment Agency, have declined business from demanding employers.
She recalled how, in January, a doctor was shopping for a worker to take on the usual household duties and clean her office twice a week.
Ms Pang said the doctor expected the maid to do more as she was going to pay her $450 monthly.
"I turned her down because the worker hadn't even arrived and she was already giving so many terms and conditions. I also didn't want to get myself into trouble," she added.
Nation Employment's managing director, Mr Gary Chin, said: "During the interview with the prospective employer, we'll find out his family background and the reason for hiring a maid.
"Usually, you'll be able to tell whether their intentions are legitimate."
He said he last came across a case of illegal deployment about 10 years ago.
But volunteers from migrant worker welfare groups Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said illegal deployment is still a bugbear.
Still getting complaints
Ms Bridget Tan, Home's founder, estimated that out of the 20 complaints it receives weekly, five concern illegal deployment.
Past president of TWC2, Mr John Gee, said most workers would rather bear with the illegal deployment situation.
"They are more worried about being sent home. They complain only out of desperation, often when they feel it's too stressful."
Said Ms Tan: "The workers often agree (to work at many places) because they fear that if they disagree, the employer will cancel their permit and send them back to the agent or home country with debts that are not yet paid."
Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre, said the centre has been educating and informing workers about their employment rights through roadshows and when handling queries.
Occasionally, centre workers stumble across an illegal deployment case when "the worker had been deployed to work at another place by his employer or supervisor, and had unwittingly gone ahead to do so", added Mr Yeo, who is also a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC.
Mr Gee suggested authorities conduct more random checks on employers.
He would also like them to cut red tape so illegally deployed workers can transfer more easily to another employer.
As for Mr Phoon, he's troubled by an increase in workers' complaints.
Every week, the general manager comes across up to two workers troubled by illegal deployment. It's a big leap from 2004, when he encountered two cases monthly.
He said: "The number of (illegal deployment) cases being exposed or brought to our attention is on the rise, maybe partly due to greater education efforts by MOM.
"Credit also goes to groups like Home for actively reaching out to the foreign domestic workers."
Illegal deployment numbers
Penalty if found guilty of illegal deployment: A fine of up to $15,000, or jail of up to 12 months, or both.
In 2008, 151 people were convicted.
Last year (up to June), 36 persons were convicted.
From 2008 to 2011, 367 employers were fined between $1,500 and $20,000. Some were also jailed between one and three months.
Cases of illegal deployment
Two Indonesians, both 23 years old, worked at their employer's Ang Mo Kio fruit stall. One also had to wash clothes and clean a relative's Tanjong Pagar house.
Up at about 6am, their day often ended at midnight.
Unable to take the stress, one maid called the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics for help two weeks ago.
Both are now staying in a shelter; investigations are ongoing.
The Ministry of Manpower revoked the licences of 11 employment agencies for offences such as abetting the illegal deployment of foreign maids.
MS Bushra Employment Agency lost its licence in June. It had been convicted in court and fined $400 three months earlier for assigning a maid with no work permit to an employer.
The maid had worked two weeks on a "trial basis".
CM Manpower Centre was fined $1,000 in January for abetting the illegal employment of a maid for five days in July 2006.
Two months later, the agency was convicted and fined $700 for withholding the passport of the same maid for over a month.
Its licence was revoked in August.
Angel Maids Agency was convicted in court and fined $7,200 for allowing a maid without a work permit to work for two employers on three occasions.
Its licence was revoked in September.
Know about an illegal deployment case? Call the Ministry of Manpower at 64385122 or e-mail
All information will be kept confidential.
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics 24-hour toll-free helpline: 1800-7977977