Singapore

Help centre for maids plans to double shelter capacity

An Indonesian maid was experiencing depression and had morbid thoughts when she picked up the phone last year to call her friend Rusmawati.

After the call, Ms Rusmawati - also a domestic worker from Indonesia - made a decision that may have saved her friend's life.

She alerted the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE). CDE and the police then quickly contacted her friend, averting a tragedy.

Today, the woman is doing better, and she gets counselling from CDE, a voluntary welfare organisation that looks after foreign domestic workers' (FDW) interests.

SECOND ANNIVERSARY

At the CDE's second anniversary celebrations yesterday, this and other stories were recounted, as CDE announced plans to double its maid shelter capacity to 200 spaces this year and roll out a skills certification course.

An annual CDE report showed a rise in the number of maids helped - CDE gave shelter to 141 last year, up from 110 in 2016.

The boost in shelter space comes as the number of pay disputes stays high.

Many maids seek shelter as disputes are being resolved.

Of the 607 cases of help last year, pay disputes were the most common.

Since 2016, CDE has clawed back $113,668 from employers.

This includes employers who failed to pay or withheld salaries for "safekeeping".

Based on an average salary of $600, this represents nearly 190 unpaid monthly wages.

But there are still more cases that go unreported or cannot be resolved due to employers' inability to pay, CDE chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said.

"We have to educate FDWs to come to us early. We have seen cases where... by the time we are aware, the employers may already be in financial difficulty," he said.

In one case, the amount owed to a maid totalled $15,000, which was successfully recovered after the CDE stepped in.

More public education needs to be done to help maids understand their rights and to allay fears of coming forward, he said.

"Many maids do not know that there is a scheme to allow them to change employers if they face a salary dispute.

"While the case is being resolved, CDE will be able to provide all assistance, including lodging," said Mr Yeo.

CDE hopes to offer training and certification programmes during the maids' stay at CDE shelters. It is working with training partners SkillsFuture Singapore and the NTUC Learning Hub on this.

CDE also wants more employers to use e-payments, to minimise disputes.

"We are also calling on the Government to make safekeeping of FDWs' salaries by employers illegal," said Mr Yeo, noting that this is a common cause of disputes.

Maids say they are aware of the various avenues of help.

CDE has five locations, including at City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza, where its site offices are located.

Talks are underway to open a third office in Lucky Plaza.

Employment