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Speech at 2nd Foreign Domestic Workers' Day

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower, Convention Centre, Singapore Polytechnic

Ambassadors, High Commissioners and colleagues from the embassies

President of FAST

Chairman and members of the Organising Committee

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon.

  1. It gives me great pleasure to join you today to celebrate the second Foreign Domestic Workers’ Day in Singapore.

    Appreciate Contributions of Foreign Domestic Workers
  2. I think a year ago, we celebrated the first “Foreign Domestic Workers’ Day.” This day was set aside to recognize the important roles that all of you here, and all your friends out there, the foreign domestic workers, the role that they play in our society, in our families and all our lives. You make a great difference for many families in Singapore. You are nannies to our children, you are caregivers to our elderly and the disabled. And without you, I think many Singaporeans would not be able to go to work, or find it difficult, and to build their careers. So your contributions are important so we would like to say a big “Thank You” for all your hard work and all your service, looking after all of us.
  3. This year, I am happy to see so many segments of society coming together again to appreciate our domestic workers – employers, non-government organizations, voluntary welfare organisations, employment agencies, training providers, government officials and, of course, our friends from the embassies. Your support is crucial for the well-being and self-esteem of domestic workers here. I would especially like to thank all the people that have made this event possible: (i) the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training (or FAST) who spearheaded the event; (ii) our NGO and VWO friends in the organising committee, many of whom tire relentlessly to try to improve the lot of domestic workers in Singapore and (iii) our supporters - The Lee Foundation, Keppel Corporation Pte Ltd, Grace Management Consultancy Services Pte Ltd and sponsors.

    Coming and Settling into Singapore
  4. I think it is appropriate to just highlight that an event like this, to recognize the contributions of the FDWs, many of whom are here in Singapore, and who have to be away from their families back home, I think that it is something that is important for us to do. I think it is a mark of our society, in the way we treat others, in the way we treat our foreign domestic workers, it reflects on the values that we hold, and I think it is important for Singaporeans, and for all employers, to bear that in mind. Because the examples that we set as parents, in the way we treat our FDWs, will be learnt by our children who are observing it everyday, and it reflects poorly on us, if we don’t uphold those values, as befitting the society in Singapore, and that is something that all of us ought to bear in mind.
  5. We all know that coming to work in a foreign land for all of you here, for the FDW is not easy. Many of you are driven by the goal of improving your own lives and the lives of your families and your loved ones back home. Your determination has helped many of you to overcome the difficulties of working abroad and enabled you to contribute effectively to your employers. With help from your employers, most of you have adjusted well to living and working in Singapore.
  6. Nonetheless, our government will continue to strive at improving the working environment and recruitment process for both workers and employers. In April this year, we implemented new regulations for employment agencies, which capped the amount of fees that could be charged to workers by the agents. We also started a holistic review of domestic worker regulations and employment situation.
  7. The process of this review has taken some time, in order to arrive at solutions that balance the needs and concerns of the different stakeholders. Over the past year, MOM has interviewed over 900 foreign domestic workers and 500 employers to understand the needs and concerns holistically. We also held many focus group discussions with employment agencies, employers, embassies, and NGOs on a wide range of issues. Hundreds of emails have come in from members of the public on these issues as well and we were open to creating solutions together with our stakeholders.

    Review of FDW Entry Requirements
  8. Many stakeholders called for MOM to make the entry requirements for foreign domestic workers more relevant for domestic workers, employers and employment agencies. In 2005, a package of measures was introduced aimed at raising the quality of domestic workers and making sure that the first-time domestic workers were better able to adapt to working and living in Singapore. One of the requirements we introduced was for first-time domestic workers to pass a mandatory Entry Test in English. It was meant to ensure that they were able to understand basic safety instructions and had literacy and numeracy skills to be able to perform basic household tasks. Other measures included a minimum age and formal education requirement. These were meant to bring in more matured domestic workers, who generally would be better able to adapt to working in a foreign and urban environment. First-time domestic workers have also been attending a half-day Safety Awareness Course, before working in their employers’ home, to ensure that they are able to work safely in high-rise apartments and flats.
  9. First of all, there has overwhelming support for MOM to remove the mandatory Entry Test for first-time foreign domestic workers and to replace it with a Settling-in-Programme. While the entry test was introduced with good intentions, we’ve heard from many you that it is not a meaningful measure of quality and does not guarantee that the worker necessarily sufficiently understands the English language. We’re also aware that it discourages some good domestic workers from wanting to work here, while others spend a lot of time, valuable training time, preparing for the test. While the passing rates are high at about 95%, we know that the test can cause distress, quite a lot of distress, to those who fail after having incurred recruitment fees in their home country to come here.
  10. The new mandatory Settling-In Programme (or SIP) is another way to achieve the objective of ensuring that first-time foreign domestic workers are able to adapt to living and working safely in Singapore. From our surveys and consultations, we found that 4 out of 5 foreign domestic workers faced initial problems settling in to life and work in Singapore. Aside from missing their homes and families, many had difficulties adjusting to the local environment and culture and were stressed at work. The Settling-in Programme will therefore include modules on (i) basic safety awareness particularly around the home; (ii) adapting to life and work in Singapore, including stress management, and (iii) conditions of employment and the responsibilities of domestic workers. The Programme will not include training on language skills or other domestic skills like cooking and cleaning, as these tend to vary according to the needs and demands of each individual household.
  11. We hope that with the new SIP, foreign domestic workers will be better prepared to start work in Singapore. To maximize understanding and retention, the Programme will be conducted in the FDWs’ native languages. This will remove the stress faced by workers of having to pass an Entry Test in English and employers who may find themselves without help if the workers fail.
  12. The Settling-in Programme will be implemented by sometime in the middle of 2012. We are in the process of refining the programme content and duration to ensure maximum benefit for everyone concerned. We know that employers may be concerned about cost and content. Just as we have kept costs for the Safety Awareness Course and the entry test low, we will endeavour to make the mandatory SIP value for money for employers as well. We will continue to consult our stakeholders as we fine-tune the programme and will make more details available in due course.
  13. We will still require foreign domestic workers to be of 23 years of age and to have 8 years of formal education. This is in the interests of both our domestic workers and our employers.

    Facilitating a Well-Functioning FDW System
  14. Secondly, we have heard from many of you that more could be done to improve the matching of employers and FDWs.
  15. Because individual employers have such different criteria and needs, MOM is working closely with industry associations to create greater transparency about FDWs’ employment histories and both employers’ and FDWs’ expectations, so that employment agencies can facilitate better matches. MOM has been working with the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) [or AEA(S) as we refer to them] and CaseTrust to introduce a standard bio-data template for all employment agencies to use. This will help ensure that prospective employers are properly informed of key information like the FDW’s employment history, skills set and how the information in the bio-data has been verified.
  16. Our stakeholder consultations showed that most employers relied on the FDWs’ bio-data when choosing an FDW. But employers can do more than rely on the bio-data, such as conducting face-to-face or phone interviews before hiring her. AEA(S) will work with employment agencies to provide avenues for employers to assess the language competencies of FDWs, such as written tests in English or opportunities to interview the FDW over the phone or via web-conference. AEA(S) is also working with MOM to develop a voluntary trustmark scheme to differentiate better EAs in the market and promote best practices in the industry.

    Role of Stakeholders
  17. The government is making these moves in order to achieve our objectives of a well-functioning allocation system that provides for good employment conditions for domestic workers and satisfied employers. But the government can only do so much on its own. Other stakeholders – employers, employment agencies and non-government or voluntary welfare organisations - have their roles to play as well.
  18. Employers, you have a fundamental role in selecting a suitable domestic worker, improving your personal and working relationship with your domestic worker, and ensuring that your domestic worker is properly trained in skills that are important to you – either at home or through training courses. And as I mentioned earlier, I think it is also important for employers to bear in mind the way in which you manage, the way in which you treat the FDW. Because it reflects the values that you hold, And these are the values that your children will learn from you, as they observe you, on a day-to-day basis. Employment agencies, you play an important role of being the intermediary between domestic worker and employer and the need to ensure that the domestic worker meets both MOM’s and the prospective employer’s requirements. Also, being privy to your client’s unique needs and requirements put you in a good position to provide basic skills training in areas that are of value to your client. And I think it is important for the EAs to bear this in mind. They are not there just to match the FDW and the employer. But to follow up as well as they can. Non-government and voluntary welfare organizations play a critical and crucial role and we are grateful for your contributions, in looking after the interest of domestic workers - by helping them to upgrade their skills and to save and invest wisely, so that they go home better equipped to make better and good living.

  19. In closing, I would like to say that everyone has a part to play. FDWs also have a role to play, when we talk about mutual respect, care, it is both from employers to the FDWs, and the same way from the FDWs to the employers, and the families that they serve. And I think it is important in closing to extend my appreciation once again to all foreign domestic workers here, all of you here and your friends out there, for your valuable contributions. I also thank all the stakeholders present here today and those who have participated in our consultations. I think we all share very common objectives, We are all here in many ways to make lives better, make lives better for Singaporeans, as they learn to manage the different needs that they have, and FDWs play an important role in that. Our role is to facilitate, to make sure that process works as effortlessly as possible. And I think it is also important for us to make sure that we look after the FDWs who, as I mentioned earlier, take a very big step to depart from their homes, and to depart from their loved ones, to be here, And I think all of us share a common perspective in making lives better for everyone. So I wish everyone well and thank you once again.
  20. Thank you.