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Speech at 3rd Foreign Domestic Workers’ Day

Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education, Singapore Polytechnic Convention Centre

Ambassadors, High Commissioners and colleagues from the embassies

President of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training (FAST)

President of Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore)

Chairman and members of the Organising Committee

Ladies and gentlemen

Good afternoon.

  1. It gives me great pleasure to be here with you.

    Appreciation of foreign domestic workers’ contributions
  2. Today, we are here to recognise and celebrate the contributions of foreign domestic workers. Those of you who are employers of domestic helpers will agree with me that they play an important role in the lives of our households. They help us with our household chores; they care for our children and elderly; they allow us to achieve better work-life harmony by keeping our households in order while we go out to work. In many ways, they are not only helpers, but also members of our extended families.
  3. To all domestic helpers in Singapore – I would like to thank you for your contributions to the many families in this country.

    Appreciation of organisers’ efforts
  4. I would also like to thank the organisations which have helped to put together today’s event. Special mention must be given to FAST for spearheading this event for the past three years, and for making each year’s event even more successful than the last. When the inaugural Foreign Domestic Workers’ Day was held in 2010, we had 600 about participants. Under FAST’s leadership, the event has since reached out to many more workers and stakeholders. Today, as you can see, the number of participants has more than doubled.
  5. I am also pleased to see FAST actively collaborating with other organisations in planning today’s event. This year, FAST welcomes the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore [or AEA(S)], on board the organizing committee. The AEAS brings to this event its well-recognised Foreign Domestic Worker and Foreign Domestic Worker Employer of the Year awards. I think many of you must be very keen to find out who the winners are. We are looking forward to listening and learning from their stories.

    MOM’s efforts to enhance well-being of foreign domestic workers
  6. We know that leaving our homes and working in a foreign land is not easy. Many domestic helpers choose to do so because you want a better life for yourselves and your families back home. Through your hard work and your employer’s support, many of you have managed to adjust well to working in Singapore.
  7. The Singapore Government is doing its part to improve your well-being.

    Settling-in Programme
  8. In May, we implemented the new Settling-In-Programme to better orientate and equip domestic helpers with basic knowledge about living and working safely in Singapore.

    Tightened safety rules on window cleaning and new safety agreement
  9. Your safety at work is very important to us. So in June, we tightened safety requirements on window cleaning. And to encourage greater compliance with these rules, employment agencies will be required to facilitate the signing of a safety agreement between employers and domestic helpers before they can be deployed from 1 Dec 2012. The safety agreement form not only explains the Ministry’s rules on window cleaning, but also clarifies the employers’ requirements and the helpers’ understanding of their duties. When expectations are aligned, accidents are reduced.

    Implementation of weekly rest day
  10. The mandatory rest day will also kick in for all foreign domestic workers whose work permits are issued or renewed on or after 1 January 2013. Many of you must be eagerly anticipating this. The aim of the rest day is to give you a mental and physical break from your daily work. Since many of you have a desire to improve yourselves, one way to spend your rest day meaningfully is to sign up for courses that interest you and can teach you skills. Many organisations, such as FAST, have lined up exciting and enriching programmes. If you have always wanted to pick up new hobbies or learn new skills, this is a good opportunity.

    Role of other stakeholders
  11. While the Government has made considerable efforts to protect and enhance the well-being of domestic helpers, we cannot do this alone. Every stakeholder – employers, helpers, agencies, NGOs – plays a part. Let me elaborate:

    Role of employers
  12. First, employers play a central role in ensuring the well-being of your domestic helpers. They work and live in your households. You should be the first to know if they are performing the chores safely; if they need medical attention; or if they are having trouble adjusting. Responsible employers who take the time to build open communication, mutual trust and respect will also have happier and more productive domestic helpers.
  13. Some, like Mdm Sheila Johns, have gone the extra mile to encourage and sponsor their helpers for extra training programmes. Others, like Mdm Lynda Tan Ai Pin, even bring their helpers along on family trips. To many, simple gestures such as saying “thank you” and giving them time to learn the ropes, like what Mdm Masita Latiff has done, go a long way in helping them feel appreciated.
  14. Like employers in every other sector, you bear primary responsibility in selecting a domestic helper that can best meet your family’s needs. To facilitate better matching, the Government has worked with the AEA(S) to launch a standard bio-data form from March 2013. This will allow prospective employers to receive information of potential helpers in a consistent format, so that you can make a more informed hiring decision no matter which EA you use.

    Role of foreign domestic workers
  15. Second, domestic helpers also have an important role in maintaining the good working relationship with employers who have entrusted you with the well-being of their families and households.
  16. Open and respectful communication will be all the more critical when the rest day is implemented next year. There may be times when your employer could offer to compensate you for not taking a day off because she needs you to help out at home. Communicate your preferences and needs to your employer honestly and respectfully, so that both of you can come to a mutual agreement. There may also be times when your employer will worry about your well-being and safety when you are out. Take good care of yourselves and behave responsibly. Steer away from illegal activities, such as moonlighting, or any other activities that cause you to breach your work permit conditions, on your rest day.
  17. The experiences of Mey-ang Basali, Elsa Torres Nuque, and Mdm Supinah demonstrate how strong and enduring bonds can be built between domestic helpers and the families they work for. During the course of their employment, they not only nursed members of their employers’ families through critical illnesses, but have also been caring nannies to the children they helped to raise. I am deeply moved by their devotion.

    Role of Employment Agencies (EAs)
  18. Third, EAs are an important bridge between employers and their helpers. As the paid intermediary, you have a duty of care to understand the needs and preferences of both sides and facilitate good matches. The standard biodata form should help.
  19. Beyond pairing, you should pay special attention to issues which impact the workers’ well-being. We trust that you will take your role in administering the new safety agreement form seriously.

    Role of non-Government and voluntary organisations
  20. Last, but certainly not least, there are many non-Government and voluntary organisations which we work closely with to improve the well-being of domestic helpers. We are grateful for your support and commitment in looking out for the interests of the many domestic helpers, particularly in organising meaningful courses and activities for them on their rest days. The Government remains a committed partner in your endeavours.

  21. In closing, I would like to once again extend my appreciation to all the domestic helpers present here today, and your friends out there, for your valuable contributions to Singapore. I would also like to thank all the stakeholders – employers, EAs, non-Government and voluntary organisations, training providers, Government officials, and our friends from the Embassies – for taking time from your busy schedules to be here with us today.
  22. Thank you.