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Speech at 5th Foreign Domestic Workers Day

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health , Manpower, The Grandstand, Turf City

His Excellency Mahbub Uz Zaman,
High Commissioner, Bangladesh High Commission

His Excellency Wishwanath Aponsu,
Acting Ambassador, Embassy of Sri Lanka

Representatives of Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India

Mr Seah Seng Choon,
President of Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST)

Mrs Helen Tan,
Vice President of FAST and Chairperson of the 5th FDW Day Organising Committee

Ms K Jayaprema,
President of Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore)

  1. Ladies and gentlemen, and all our foreign domestic workers here today,
  2. Once again, a very good afternoon. I am delighted to join all of you here this afternoon for the fifth Foreign Domestic Workers Day organised by FAST, AEAS and other partners. And I hope that you have been enjoying the festivities thus far. If you have been enjoying yourselves since this morning, please give the organisers a big round of applause. Thank you. The louder the applause, the larger the event will be next year.
  3. Like many countries, Singapore and Singaporeans have benefitted from the help provided by foreign domestic workers over the past few decades. I think all of us here, including myself, have benefitted from all your help and support given to our families. Many domestic workers play important roles in caring for households with young and elderly care needs, while managing housework at the same time. The assistance you provide enables more Singaporeans to go out to work and pursue their interests. I’m sure all the employers here would agree with me that you are valuable additions to their families. So, employers, if you agree with me, please give them a big round of applause. Now, as we celebrate FDW Day, please join me once again, to thank all our domestic workers for the care and companionship that they provide as I’ve said earlier.

    Mutual Care and Respect
  4. This year’s FDW theme is a timely reminder. What is the theme for this year FDW Day? Do you know what the theme is? It is “mutual care and respect.” Mutual care and respect underpins the relationship between the employer, his or her family and the domestic worker. Mutual care and respect enables strong working relationships of trust to develop; and this must be facilitated by open and respectful communication. I think this is really important.

    Facilitating Good Employer-FDW Working Relationships
  5. Today, we celebrate employers and workers who embody this of “mutual care and respect” with the FDW of the Year as well as the FDW Employer of the Year Awards. Let me just share a few stories that I have found particularly heart-warming and inspiring. And I hope that all of you can listen to these heart-warming and inspiring stories of our FDW and their employer. Is that alright? Thank you.
  6. Well, we all know it takes time and effort to build good and strong working relationships. And more often than not, this does not happen overnight, you need time. Nona Abdul Hadee, are you here? You don’t need to come up, you can stay there but we can all give you a big round of applause. Nona Abdul Hadee, she’s a domestic helper from Sri Lanka, who is one of the nominees for the FDW of the Year Award. I understand that she initially could not communicate well with her employer. Why? Because in the beginning, Nona only spoke Tamil, while her employers, Mr Tahir and his family, spoke Urdu. But Nona was determined to improve her English and Urdu, and has formed very close bonds since with Mr Tahir’s wife and daughter over time. So, today, Nona is attending an entrepreneurship course and with the support of her employer, Mr Tahir’s daughter. Nona holds hope and optimism for her future as a business woman when she returns home. Congratulations.
  7. Now, another nominee, Filipino helper Chona, is she around? Do you know how many years Chona has worked for her employer? Chona has worked for her employer for 22 years. Not only does she manage the household, but she was also devoted as a caregiver to family members who were stricken by illnesses and required constant care. So, in every way, Chona is treated as like another family member. The family encourages her to follow her passion for gardening and the beautiful garden she has nurtured in her employer’s home has, in fact, won several awards. I think I want to learn from Chona too!

    Efforts to enhance well-being of Foreign Domestic Workers
  8. These examples demonstrate the type of relationships we hope will become more common amongst employers and their domestic workers: that employers who look after the well-being of their domestic workers; while the domestic workers learn to meet the needs and expectations of the families they work for.

    Mandating Key Requirements on FDW Well-Being
  9. Now, on its part, the Government has put in place regulations to guide employers on safe and responsible employment practices in the households. In cases where the worker’s personal safety is at stake, the Ministry of Manpower has been very specific in its requirements. For example, we amended our laws since June 2012, requiring employers to supervise work that involves the cleaning of window exteriors and to ensure that window grilles are locked before work is carried out. It is very important to make sure that work is safe. If you want to clean the exteriors of the windows, window grilles must be locked.
  10. Besides safety, having a proper place to sleep, sufficient rest, and adequate food are some of other areas that employers must be responsible for. So, the thing is, we must strike a balance in giving employers and their workers flexibility on how to interpret these. This is because we recognise that workers come from many different backgrounds and will have many different needs. For example, many Singaporeans have adjusted their dietary habits, so they don’t eat that much carbohydrate-rich food items like rice. But some domestic workers may not be used to this and they could prefer to take more rice and carbohydrates. So, it is important that employers take the trouble to understand and adapt to the needs of their domestic worker. And this works both ways. Domestic workers must have the responsibility to communicate with their employers if they have concerns. For instance, if they are still hungry, they must tell their employers, so that they will have the energy to work and be happier. Ultimately, open communication based on mutual respect and accommodation, is the best way to guarantee a good working relationship between the employer and the domestic worker.

    Meaningful Activities for FDW Rest Day
  11. Now, in the same vein, when MOM introduced the weekly rest day requirement for domestic workers in Jan 2013, we were mindful of the need for flexibility for employers and workers to be able to work out mutually acceptable work arrangements suited to their circumstances. For instance, employers and workers can work out compensation-in-lieu of a day off, if that is what both sides agree to. But I am also glad that more and more employers have come to see the value of giving their domestic workers a rest day to de-stress and also to pursue their interests.
  12. There are many non-Government organisations, such as FAST which put together today’s wonderful event, that seek to improve the well-being of our domestic workers. These organisations provide training courses on a variety of subjects, as Mr Seah has said, and they include personal grooming, financial management, entrepreneurship so that they can aspire to a better future when they return home. Workers may also attend courses on care-giving and culinary skills.
  13. So, besides enriching themselves, workers who just want a break also has spaces provided by FAST at the FDW Clubhouse that was launched in April this year. Besides socialising, they can also make use of some of the services, like the remittance services, the postal services and so on. Like what Mr Seah said, I hope that more of you will sign up for the FDW clubhouse.
  14. MOM will continue to work with FAST and other non-Government and voluntary organisations, as well as other stakeholders like Employment Agencies and training providers to improve the FDW landscape.

    Conclusion
  15. On this note, let me once again, thank every domestic worker present here and also out there for your commitment to our families. We value your contributions. Give yourself a big round of applause. Thank you very much. We value your contributions and hope that you will find working in Singapore to be enriching and rewarding. Our thanks to the organiser, friends from the Embassies, and all stakeholders for taking part in this important day. I wish all of you a great day ahead. Thank you very much.