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Abusive FDW employers are barred by MOM from hiring

  • TODAY (7 Aug 2019): Tweak laws to ensure employers who abuse their maids compensate them
  • TODAY (13 Aug 2019): Instead of banning maid abusers from rehiring, consider these options

Abusive FDW employers are barred by MOM from hiring
-TODAY, 21 August 2019

  1. Ms Jaya Anil Kumar (“Tweak laws to ensure employers who abuse their maids compensate them”, 7 Aug) and Mr Benjamin Joshua Ong (“Instead of banning maid abusers from rehiring, consider these options”, 13 Aug) raise suggestions to better protect victims of foreign domestic worker (FDW) abuse. 
  2. As pointed out, the Criminal Procedure Code provides a range of methods for the court to enforce a compensation order, e.g. through the attachment of property belonging to the offender, or through the imposition of an imprisonment term in default of payment. The court can also order compensation to be paid in instalments. These methods increase the likelihood that a compensation sum ordered is eventually paid. While attachment of property is a possibility, the court is given a discretion whether or not to order this. This enables the court to consider whether such an order (e.g. to require the offender’s home to be sold) is fair and proportionate.
  3. Our laws provide strong and comprehensive protection to FDWs and are enforced strictly. Penalties for abusing FDWs will be enhanced up to two times the maximum punishment under the Penal Code. Where an employer is convicted of FDW abuse, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) imposes a permanent employment ban on the employer and the spouse. Other household members may also be banned depending on the facts of the case. 
  4. While these laws are in place, MOM remains fair to employers who have been punished previously, and is prepared to consider their appeals subsequently.  The couple was banned from hiring FDWs in 2001. In 2010, the husband appealed to be allowed to hire an FDW to assist in taking care of his wife, who had suffered a stroke.  MOM acceded to the appeal on compassionate grounds. 
  5. For appeal cases, MOM will exercise judgement and ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place to protect the FDW’s well-being.  For example, the employer is required to provide a compliance bond.  MOM also interviews FDWs in such households to check on them.  Nevertheless, there will be employers who do not learn from their past mistakes, and reoffend.  MOM will continue to take stock of and improve on existing safeguards to protect FDWs’ well-being.
  6. All first-time FDWs are educated on their rights and responsibilities as well as the various channels where they can seek help during the mandatory Settling-In Programme. MOM also conducts random interviews with them without their employer’s presence to ascertain if they are settling well. Similarly, employers are educated on the severe penalties of ill-treating their FDWs through the Employers’ Orientation Programme and regular newsletters.
  7. The public can play a part too, by reporting suspected abuse cases to MOM at 6438 5122 or the Police at 1800-255 0000, or dial ‘999’ if urgent Police assistance is required. All reported information will be kept strictly confidential.   

    Jeremy Yeo
    Director, Criminal Policy Division 
    Ministry of Law

    Jeanette Har (Ms)
    Director, Well-Being Department  
    Ministry of Manpower  

 Tweak laws to ensure employers who abuse their maids compensate them
- TODAY, Voices, 7 Aug 2019

  1. We refer to the case of Khanifah, a foreign domestic worker (FDW) whose employer was sentenced to 11 years’ jail for abusing her. Zariah Mohd Ali, was ordered to pay her about S$56,500 in compensation or face an additional five months in jail.
    Zariah's husband, Mohamad Dahlan, will serve one year and three months behind bars and was ordered to pay S$1,000 in compensation for hurting Ms Khanifah.
  2. The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) provides that a court may order compensation to be paid by the accused to the victim. It also provides for the following alternatives:
  3. That the accused's property may be used as a guarantee for the compensation order; and if the accused person is being committed to prison, that money found on him when he is searched may go towards the payment of the compensation order. However, these measures are not mandatory and are ordered at the court's discretion. Furthermore, the CPC allows the accused to serve a default jail sentence in lieu of paying the compensation.
  4. In other words, our current legal framework does not guarantee that the money in a compensation order reaches the victim. In Ms Khanifah’s case, if her employers’ appeals are unsuccessful and they cannot pay the compensation, she will be left with little apart from a sense of justice.  
    The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics suggests that current laws be amended to ensure the amount stated in the compensation order reaches these FDWs. This can include a provision which mandates a compensation order be made for FDW victims, the compulsory use of the property of the accused as a guarantee to the compensation order, and doing away with the provision where a default sentence can be served in lieu of payment of the compensation. 
  5. We must also be aware of the added difficulties faced by FDWs who are victims of abuse and who choose to report such abuse. Even if they are given permission to work during investigations, many are too traumatised to return to domestic work. Employers are often reluctant to hire FDWs involved in police investigations. Thus, they spend long periods of time away from their families, and without making a living.
  6. Some FDWs, like Ms Khanifah, also have to relive their trauma by facing their employers at court hearings. To at least partly compensate for such trauma, compensation orders for FDWs must be realised.  The horrific nature of Ms Khanifah’s abuse enhances the need for monetary redress.
  7. Further, this is Ms Khanifah’s employers’ second conviction for abusing their FDW. Even though the Ministry of Manpower has stated that it permanently bans convicted abusers and their spouses from hiring FDWs, Ms Khanifah’s employers were not caught under this ban, thus perpetuating the abusive behaviour.
  8. We note that little is known about the enforcement of this ban; loopholes which allow convicted abusers to re-hire FDWs should be plugged.

Instead of banning maid abusers from rehiring, consider these options
TODAY, Voices, 13 Aug 2019

  1. When Zariah Mohd Ali and Mohamad Dahlan were convicted of abusing a domestic worker in 2001, the district court described their conduct as “cruel and mindless” and having “a strong element of torture”.
  2. The couple have now abused another domestic worker in an even more shocking manner ("Abusive couple strikes again: 11 years' jail for woman whose assaults left helper with deformed ear, broken finger”; Aug 1)
  3. Should those with a history of such cruelty, such as Zariah and Dahlan, be given a second chance to hire a domestic worker?
  4. One may instinctively say no. After all, Zariah and Dahlan have clearly abused their second chance. Yet, under our system of criminal justice, all but the worst offenders are to have the opportunity to demonstrate that their sentence has rehabilitated and deterred them, causing them to change for the better.
  5. While this is difficult to accept, the alternative — taken to its extreme — is to give up on the possibility of deterrence and rehabilitation in favour of sheer incapacitation. We certainly could prevent reoffending by abandoning the Yellow Ribbon Project, stopping rehabilitative programmes in prisons, and sentencing anybody who has committed a crime to life imprisonment or death. But we do not do this because of our commitment to the belief that people can mend their ways.
  6. That is not to say we should not protect potential victims. Nor does it mean those like Zariah and Dahlan do not deserve severe punishment. Instead, the challenge is in balancing the need to give offenders a second chance with the need to guard against the risk of reoffending.
  7. When it comes to hiring foreign domestic workers, the Ministry of Manpower’s website states that an employer who has committed crimes, such as abusing a domestic worker, may be prohibited from hiring another domestic worker. The period of debarment “depends on the severity of the offences”, adds the ministry.
  8. Does this rule strike a satisfactory balance? One may say it does not go far enough and argue for a blanket ban on those with convictions from ever hiring domestic workers.
  9. Yes, perhaps Zariah and Dahlan should have been banned from hiring another domestic worker. But can we say the same of a person who has, in an isolated incident, used abusive language towards a worker and since repented? Would a blanket ban be appropriate?
  10. There are alternatives to a ban — temporary or permanent. These suggestions are hardly perfect, but I offer them for consideration:

Require a prospective employer to place a large deposit that will be forfeited if the employer reoffends.
Require a prospective employer to disclose his criminal history to a prospective domestic worker, to allow the worker to make an informed decision.
Require domestic workers to undergo regular checkups by professionals trained to spot signs of abuse.