The truth behind Indah’s Case
In the report, “Behind Closed Doors: Forced Labour in the Domestic Work Sector in Singapore”, published in January 2019 by HOME and a Hong Kong NGO Liberty Shared, it portrayed the case of a foreign domestic worker (FDW) “Indah” (a pseudonym) as a victim of forced labour in one case study, presumably based on the FDW’s account.
HOME and Liberty Shared, have not only misrepresented Indah’s case but also the overall employment conditions of FDWs working here in the report. It has deliberately misled readers to draw erroneous conclusions and has maligned the many employers who have treated their FDWs well. The truth is far from what has been depicted in the report.
Case in HOME’s Report Grossly Inaccurate
Based on the descriptions of Indah’s case, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has traced it to a case in 2017 which MOM assisted the FDW. MOM had interviewed the FDW and her employer in the course of our investigations. By all accounts, the case as depicted by HOME in the joint report is grossly inaccurate.
MOM wishes to lay out the facts and set the record straight. Based on our investigations, there is no reason for us to believe that the FDW did not disclose the truth about her employment condition. The FDW had worked for 10 over years with the family. She said in her statement that she had a good working relationship with her employer. The employment relationship turned sour and came to an abrupt end when her employer suspected her of theft and reported her to the Police.
Claim 1: Indah did not receive more than $40,000 in salary.
Fact: Indah had mutually agreed to a salary safekeeping arrangement with her employer. On occasions, she would remit a portion of her salary. Upon clarification with her employer, her salary was promptly returned in full to Indah, at the conclusion of the case.
Claim 2: Indah was overworked and her well-being was affected.
Fact: Indah had adequate rest and had no complaints about her sleeping and working hours. Daily, she would sleep at 10-11pm and wake up at around 7-8 am, with ample rest breaks throughout the day. MOM’s investigations also showed that Indah did not face any well-being issues.
Claim 3: Indah was not allowed to communicate freely with others and her family, who thought she had died.
Fact: Indah was able to communicate freely and frequently using the house phone. At one point over a period of a few months, she accumulated more than $1,000 in phone bills making calls to her family.
Claim 4: Indah was not given proper rest days.
Fact: Indah had one off day per month. As she did not have any acquaintances in Singapore, she preferred to stay at home.
Claim 5: Indah was not allowed to go on home leave.
Fact: Indah chose to renew her contract after the end of each employment contract, and agreed to stay and continue working. Hence, her employment with her employer continued for a total of 10 years.
Claim 6: Indah’s movements were restricted, and she was a victim of human trafficking.
Fact: Indah was able to move about freely, contact anyone she wished and was free to leave the employment at any point. She stated that throughout the 10 years of employment, she had a good working relationship with her employer. MOM’s investigation did not show that Indah was a victim of human trafficking as the three internationally accepted criteria of Act (e.g. harbouring), Means (e.g. threat or use of force) and Purpose (e.g. slavery) did not exist in her situation to be considered as a Trafficking-in-Persons (TIP) case. MOM’s finding was clearly communicated to HOME in September 2017, way before the publication of the report which HOME chose to ignore.
Irresponsible Reporting to Misrepresent and Mislead
MOM cannot agree with the views put forth by HOME in their latest report. HOME’s report on forced labour has misled readers to draw erroneous conclusions that foreign domestic workers working in Singapore are subject to harsh employment conditions suggestive of forced labour. The report highlights 11 case studies which we have requested information from HOME for verification.
MOM has established channels for HOME to surface and fact check cases with MOM before the publication of any article or report. MOM in fact met HOME on 15 January 2019 before the launch of the report to highlight that the report was inaccurate and the unsubstantiated case studies should not be cited in support of the report’s recommendations. HOME did not heed our point, and proceeded to release the report.
MOM has asked HOME for the details of the FDWs cited in the report. To date, HOME has failed to provide the details of nine cases despite our reminders, and can only provide MOM with information on just two cases, which were investigated and found to be unsubstantiated. These inaccurate details casts doubt on HOME’s report, and MOM can only conclude that the report is unreliable.
While MOM engages migrant worker NGOs to work on areas of common interest, the publication of unsubstantiated case studies in the joint report by HOME and Liberty Shared is totally irresponsible and not helpful to the foreign workers they wish to assist. Such conduct is incongruent with the high standards of integrity and accountability that MOM expects of an NGO championing the interest of FDWs.