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Speech at 1st Foreign Domestic Workers Day

Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Minister of State for Trade , Industry and Manpower, NTUC Auditorium

Your Excellency Wardana
Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia

Mr Anthony Sia
Chairman of the Organising Committee and President of FAST

Members of the Organising Committee

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon.

  1. It gives me great pleasure to join you today to celebrate the first-ever Foreign Domestic Workers Day in Singapore.

    Appreciating FDWs’ Contributions
  2. Today we are here to recognise the contributions of foreign domestic workers, or FDWs as we often call them. There are currently 196, 000 FDWs in Singapore. That means about one in every five households in Singapore relies on an FDW to help out in their homes. Every day, FDWs play an important role in our households. They are nannies to our young children, caregivers to our elderly parents, and helpers who ensure that our households are in order. With their help, our families are better able to juggle household priorities and demands. FDWs contribute quietly. They make a great difference for many families in Singapore.

    Ensuring the well-being of FDWs

    Role of the Government
  3. To ensure the well-being of our FDWs, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) adopts a multi-faceted approach in partnership with various stakeholders. First, MOM sets out and enforces minimum standards on safety and health. This year, we raised the minimum medical insurance coverage for all foreign workers, including FDWs, from $5,000 a year to $15,000 a year. This amount will cover 98% of hospital bills incurred by foreign workers. In addition, we require FDWs to have insurance cover for personal accidents at a minimum sum of $40,000. MOM also requires all first-time FDWs to attend a half-day Safety Awareness Course to learn about safe ways of work in our urban domestic settings.
  4. Second, MOM is raising the professional standards of employment agencies that place FDWs. MOM has recently reviewed the employment agency regulatory framework. We have proposed a mandatory certification and registration requirement for all employment agency personnel, especially key appointment holders who manage and control agencies’ operations. When implemented, these changes will weed out unlicensed players from the employment agency industry and ensure that employment agency personnel behave professionally. The Bill to effect these changes is now before Parliament.
  5. Third, MOM conducts workshops to educate FDWs and employers on their responsibilities and mutual obligations. MOM requires first-time employers to go through an Employers’ Orientation Programme to better understand what it takes to be a responsible employer. MOM also provides employers and FDWs with information on employment issues and advice on overcoming cultural differences and communication barriers through guidebooks and newsletters. To help FDWs better adapt to working and living in Singapore, MOM introduced a pilot “Settling-In” Programme for FDWs from May to August this year. Carried out in partnership with the FAST, the programme covers topics such as Singapore’s culture and norms, stress management, healthy cooking habits, and financial management. So far, about 1,300 FDWs have attended at least one module of the programme. Many of them gave the feedback that they became surer and happier at work. MOM is currently reviewing the next steps for the programme.

    Role of Employers
  6. Employers play a central role in ensuring the well-being of FDWs. This is especially because FDWs live within their households. It is therefore crucial for employers to develop good working relations with FDWs based on communication and trust. Like most of us, FDWs are not motivated by salaries alone. They must be treated with respect, given a reasonable volume of work and provided with coaching and training. Employers should also exercise patience and empathy to better understand their FDWs. They should realise that many FDWs need to learn and adjust to the different cultural and social norms in Singapore.
  7. Better employers go further by helping their FDWs in training courses. Ms Ruby Oh, for example, not only paid for her FDW’s course fees, but also bought her a sewing machine. Employers like Ms Oh make working in Singapore an enriching and rewarding experience.

    Role of Non-Government and Voluntary Organisations
  8. There are many non-government and voluntary organisations which we work with closely to improve the well-being of FDWs. I would first like to place on record our appreciation for members of the organising committee of today’s event. They are:

    - The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of  Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI);
    - aidha;
    - Filipino Overseas Workers Association at Bayanihan Skills Center;
    - GoForth Training Centre;
    - Sultan Mosque;
    - Mujahidah Learning Centre; and
    - The Indonesian Domestic Workers Association1.

    All of them are very committed to improving the skills and welfare of FDWs. I am also delighted to note the involvement of newer organisations that have been formed to reach out to FDWs. Without all your hard work and dedication, today’s tribute to FDWs would not be possible.
  9. Finally, let me also thank the FAST for spearheading this event. The association is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year. FAST is a resourceful and innovative organisation. It collaborates with many partners to offer quality training programmes. Ranging from culinary skills to business management, FAST’s quality courses are offered at a highly subsidised rate. These courses help FDWs to learn useful skills and become more productive. Since 2005, more than 15,000 FDWs have graduated from FAST’s quality courses.
  10. With many improvement opportunities, FDWs not only become better workers. They also can contribute more to their families back home. Consider the story of Edna, a Filipina FDW who received the Best Student Award this year in the Small Business Enterprise course at ACMI Training Centre. For her final project, Edna submitted a business plan to set up an Internet café in her hometown. With the savings she had earned working in Singapore for the past five years, Edna purchased four second-hand computers to open an Internet café in Manila in January 2011. While continuing her work in Singapore, Edna will ask her family to run the Internet café business for her back home. In this way, she is better able to provide for her family in the long run.

  11. In closing, I would like to reiterate that all stakeholders play an important role in contributing to FDWs’ good working experience in Singapore. MOM will continue to support our partners’ good work. I strongly encourage more employers to send their FDWs for training. It will be a win-win for all.

    Thank you.

1Himpunan Penata Laksana Rumah Tangga Indonesia Singapura is under the Indonesian embassy.