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Speech at 4th Foreign Domestic Workers Day

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

Her Excellency Sin Serey, Ambassador, Royal Embassy of Cambodia
His Excellency Bapak Andri Hadi, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia
Her Excellency Minda Cruz, Ambassador, Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines

Representatives of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka & Thailand

Mr Seah Seng Choon, President of Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Skills Training (FAST)
Ms K Jayaprema, President of Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore)

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. I am delighted to join you this afternoon for the fourth Foreign Domestic Workers Day organised by FAST, AEAS and other partners. I hope that all of you are having a good time and would like to take a moment to thank FAST, AEAS and all the partners for organising this event for the fourth time. This is a wonderful commemoration to recognise the contributions of domestic helpers in Singapore and their employers and encourage both parties to work out a mutually beneficial relationship based on respect and care. If we can do this all the time, I’m sure we will be able to help each other, to our joy, satisfaction, and mutual benefit.

    Importance of FDWs in the Singaporean household
  2. Today, we recognise and celebrate the contributions of domestic helpers who serve our families in many ways, whether as a nanny, caregiver, housekeeper or as a cook. Often times, all in one. In fact, domestic helpers have become such an integral part of the Singaporean family that Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen made a domestic helper the central character of his award-winning movie, “Ilo Ilo”.
  3. Much of “Ilo Ilo” speaks about the situations that many families in Singapore with two working parents find themselves in. The Chinese name of the movie, [pardon my pronunciation ba ma bu zai jia (“爸妈不在家”)], literally translates to “Mum and Dad not at home”. And this is not just in reference to the employers, but the domestic helper’s own family as well, as she is absent from her family back in her home country. The domestic helper cares for the employer's children so that they can work in peace. To do so, she had to leave her own family behind to search for economic opportunities in a far away land. Employers should bear this in mind when trying to understand the needs of their domestic helpers. I cannot emphasise this enough, that we should appreciate and understand the sacrifices of the domestic helpers and the well-being of their own families, as they may be leaving behind young children and ageing parents themselves when they come to work for us.

    Facilitating good employer-FDW working relationships
  4. Employers and domestic helpers may go through daily challenges, but I believe that the majority of domestic helpers share good working relationships with their employers. Every stakeholder plays an important role in building relationships based on mutual care and respect (which is today’s theme) as well as protecting the well-being of domestic helpers. Let me elaborate.

    Government’s role
  5. The government protects domestic helpers whilst looking out for the interests of employers. We have comprehensive laws that specify the prompt payment of wages; upkeep and maintenance; and provision of a safe working environment. In January this year, we implemented the weekly rest day. I understand that many of you are on your day off and I hope that you are putting it to enjoyable and purposeful use.

    Employment Agencies’ role
  6. As the main interface between domestic helpers and employers, employment agencies will need to play a part. They ensure that the domestic helper has the right skills and experience to match the employer’s requirements and expectations. This is critical to minimise unhappiness. To facilitate this, MOM had put in place a bio-data template so that employers can look for a domestic helper with the best match. I also learnt that many agencies these days are using Skype or other video conferencing tools for employers to interview their domestic helpers before making the job offer.

    Employers’ roles
  7. Ultimately, employers play the biggest role. Besides making their needs clear to an Employment Agency at the outset, they should endeavour to communicate with their domestic helper throughout the employment relationship. This often helps to clear up any misunderstandings and not allow problems to fester. I believe that employers who are fair to their helpers can look forward to a healthy working relationship where the domestic helper is able to do a good job, and take care of their homes and family members.
  8. There are many good employers in Singapore and over 100 of them have been nominated by their domestic helpers for today’s FDW Employer of the Year Award. One such employer spent personal time and money to nurse her Filipino helper, who has been with her for 30 years. In fact, the employer took care of the household chores to allow her helper to recover from a bad eye condition. Another employer is so grateful to her 54-year-old helper for spending nine years tirelessly caring for her aged parents that she continues to employ her even though her parents have passed on and the helper is now in poor health. These stories tell us that many employers and domestic helpers can form strong, enduring relationships.

    FDWs’ roles
  9. As domestic helpers, you have an important role. Your work is, at times, not easy as you have to shoulder responsibilities like caring for the young or elderly family members. But, if you do your job to the best of your ability, you can earn the trust of your employer.
  10. Amongst this year’s nominees for the FDW of the Year Award, I was extremely touched to hear the story of an Indonesian domestic helper who went to extraordinary lengths to care for a baby boy who was diagnosed with a heart condition and had only a 30% chance of survival. Because of her dedication, the boy is now a healthy 7-year-old. Another nominee has diligently cared for her employer’s daughter who suffered from celebral palsy for the past eight years. I hope that these stories will motivate you to also do your part well and in the process, enjoy your work in Singapore.

    NGOs’ roles
  11. Finally, NGOs can and do play a part in helping the domestic helper to improve themselves. For example, FAST has ramped up its training places this year to over 10,000 in areas like cooking, baking, infant care and massage, elder and dementia care, and even personal development courses like entrepreneurial and computer skills.
  12. I hope domestic helpers take advantage of these opportunities for self improvement. As you now enjoy your weekly rest days, I encourage you to sign up for these training courses to pick up useful skills. They can help you in your current work and upon your return to your home, these skills may prove to be useful too. Many domestic helpers have benefited from these courses. For example, 28 domestic helpers from the Entrepreneurial Skills programme jointly developed by FAST and Media Transformation Ministry took part in Indonesia’s nation-wide Business Plan competition. This competition had also attracted graduates, professionals and business owners. Through the rigorous evaluation process, three domestic helpers made it to the semi-finals and one outstanding individual, Diah Lestari, was selected for the grand finals. With her employer’s blessings, Diah flew to Jakarta on 13 November to compete with five other finalists. Diah’s proposal, to set up a restaurant “Savour, The Taste of French Cuisine” in the resort island of Bali, saw her clinch the third prize of 20 million rupiah (or over S$2,000). Diah is with us today, and may I invite all to congratulate her for this wonderful achievement. I met Diah earlier and she told me that she plans to save her prize money and implement her business plan on a small scale when she returns. I wish her all the best in her endeavours.
  13. As earlier mentioned by the FAST President, besides these great training programmes, FAST has also set up a Befrienders’ Club for helpers to socialise and meet new friends. When in need, domestic helpers can call FAST’s new 24-hour hotline for help or just for a listening ear. Of course, you can also approach MOM if you need further assistance.

  14. On this note, I would like to wish all domestic helpers present today a great day of fun and activities, as we celebrate your contributions to our society. 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 schedule to be with us. Thank you and I wish one and all, a great day ahead.