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Response to Adjournment Motion on Role of Migrant Domestic Workers in Singapore's Caregiving Landscape

Ms Gan Siow Huang, Minister of State for Manpower


1. I thank the Members for sharing their views on the role of Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) in the caregiving landscape in Singapore, and their suggestions on how we can better support MDW employers given our ageing population.

2. In my response, I will address the following points:

a. MDWs’ role in Singapore’s caregiving landscape, and

b. Measures to support employers in hiring and managing their MDWs.

MDWs’ role in Singapore caregiving landscape

3. I share members’ views that MDWs continue to be important to support households with caregiving needs.

4. Over the years, the Government has dedicated efforts to improve accessibility, affordability and quality of care options overall.

a. These include expanding the capacity of long-term care services for seniors and persons with disabilities, childcare and afterschool care centres for children.

b. MND, MOH and HDB have also launched the first assisted living flats in February this year, which integrate senior-friendly design features with care services that can be scaled according to care needs. This enables seniors to live independently while meeting their current and future care needs.

c. To improve the affordability of care, various subsidy schemes have been put in place for residential, day and home care services, respite care services, childcare and infant care services. Families may apply for the means-tested Home Caregiving Grant (HCG), which can be used flexibly for different caregiving expenses, such as hiring of MDWs to care for an individual with at least permanent moderate disability. MOH is reviewing the Home Caregiving Grant to provide more help for targeted groups.

d. With the increasing complexity of care provision, it is important for MDWs to be trained in essential skills for caregiving. Employers may enrol their MDWs for various training courses to empower them to provide higher-quality care. Today, there are 200 training courses provided by 50 training providers, and are available for employers to send their MDWs to. They may tap on the Caregivers Training Grant to offset training costs for the care of elderly or disabled loved ones.

e. Members have suggested higher levy for non-local high-income households. I would like to clarify that we already pay special attention to local households with caregiving needs. This is why only households with at least a Singaporean member with care needs, are eligible for the concessionary MDW levy rate of $60 per month. All non-local households, with or without caregiving needs, pay the non-concessionary rate of $300 per month.

5. Some employers have managed to do without MDWs by tapping on institutional care options or engaging companies under the Household Services Scheme to meet their domestic cleaning needs.

6. However, for many employers, the options I have mentioned may not fully meet their needs and MDWs remain important to them.

7. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, employers have been impacted by the limited supply of MDWs to Singapore. Amidst the shortage of MDWs, some employers face requests by their MDWs for higher wages or a transfer.

8. I understand the difficulties an employer goes through if an MDW seeks a transfer before the end of the contract. To alleviate the financial burden incurred by employers, MOM recently introduced a policy to allow the incumbent and subsequent employers to share the Stay-Home-Notice (SHN) costs and COVID-19 tests costs incurred by an MDW when she entered Singapore, should the change of employer take place within 12 months of employment.

9. As the local and regional COVID-19 situation stabilises, we have begun to grant more entry approvals for MDWs to come to Singapore. The current MDW supply crunch is expected to improve in the coming months.

10. In the longer term, MOM will diversify the countries from which MDWs are hired. However, we must recognise that there will continue to be competition for MDWs, not just locally but also from countries in the region. Besides reasonable remuneration to attract MDWs to work in Singapore, there is also a need to position Singapore as an attractive workplace destination for MDWs, to ensure resilience in our MDW supply.

Measures to support MDW employers in hiring and managing their MDWs

11. Other than measures to enable a steady stream of MDWs for Singapore, it is equally important to ensure that employers are matched with MDWs who best meet their needs, as well as provide support to employers and MDWs to foster good employment relationships.

12. Members have suggested that matching be done only by local employment agencies (EAs) and to disallow direct hiring of MDWs. Today, more than 80% of employers hire their MDWs with the help of an EA. For the remaining employers who prefer to hire their MDWs directly to avoid incurring additional costs of engaging an EA, disallowing them to self-help would inadvertently increase their costs of hiring MDWs.

13. And instead of placing a cap on the maximum number of transfers for an MDW, MOM has adopted the approach of making information more transparent so that employers can make informed decisions when hiring MDWs, including those who have had frequent transfers.

a. Employers may access information relating to prospective MDWs’ work experience, and the types and sizes of households they have worked for previously. Employers can also view the length of each employment and the reasons why these MDW left their past employers, including information on the party that initiated the discontinuation of employment. We started collecting the reasons from employers for the cancellation of the MDW’s work permit since September last year. With time, the information in the MDW employment history will become more comprehensive.

b. As the Members have pointed out, the employer reference channel also allows prospective employers to contact the former employers of the MDWs they are looking to hire for reference checks.

c. MOM will look into how we can raise awareness of these existing measures amongst employers.

14. Other than improving matching outcomes, MOM has also put in place measures to support employers and MDWs during the course of employment.

a. It is not uncommon for there to be differences in expectations in a working relationship, especially at the initial stage when both parties are adjusting, be it to a new environment or having a new person living in your home.

b. Most misunderstandings between MDWs and their employers are resolved amicably.

c. However, like Members alluded to, there are instances where both parties are unable to resolve disputes on their own. For such cases, help can be sought from the employment agencies and via dispute resolution services offered by professionals through the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) and Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE).

d. From 1 December onwards, we will also require all employment agencies to conduct post-placement checks to ensure that MDWs and their employers are adjusting well.

15. MOM takes all allegations of abuse seriously and have worked with the Police to investigate reports of MDW abuse by employers or household members. Some MDWs were found in the course of Police investigations to have made false allegations against their employers. The Police and MOM will not hesitate to take firm action against such MDWs.

a. Over the past two years, Police investigated and issued warnings to 17 MDWs for providing false information against the household or employer. Of these, 13 were blacklisted and the remaining 4 are pending a review of case facts.

b. I would like to share a story about an MDW who made a police report, claiming that her employer’s wife physically abused her by slapping her limbs over a period of seven months. Upon thorough investigation by the police, the MDW admitted to providing false information against her employer in a bid to end her employment. She was charged under the Penal Code for providing false information, convicted and sentenced to four weeks’ imprisonment. She was also repatriated and banned from working in Singapore.

16. We encourage employers and MDWs to maintain open communication with one another, discuss their concerns and resolve disputes amicably. Fostering a sense of mutual trust and respect can help prevent misunderstandings from occurring.

MOM’s vision of fairness towards both ERs and MDW

17. Mr Speaker, to wrap up:

a. The caregiving landscape in Singapore will get more challenging as our population ages

b. MDWs are part of the caregiving options

c. MOM has introduced several measures to support MDW employers in hiring and managing their MDWs

d. We will continue to find ways to safeguard the interests of MDW employers while protecting the wellbeing of MDWs

e. Ultimately, for MDWs to continue to be part of our caregiving landscape, we strive to build a system that is fair to both MDWs and MDW employers.

18. Thank you.