Singapore accused of maid abuse

Just saw this on the home page of BBC News. Apparently, Human Rights Watch has accused Singapore of maid abuse.
The maids’ quotes at the end of this article are quite disturbing, though I’ve personally never heard of any similar stories. All the maids I’ve seen (working for family, friends and colleagues) seem quite happy, and some have stayed with their employers for a long time.
I was quite surprised to hear of HRW’s report, as cases of maid abuse do get reported in the local papers, with their employers usually punished by the law. You could say it’s just the tip of the iceberg, but surely the right message does get sent out when each case is reported. I recall an article in the Straits Times where model employers were featured with their maids. It was touching to hear of how a family sent their maid for classes so she could improve her career prospects.
Also, it’s difficult to legislate on things which happen in the confines of a home, even if protection is extended to this group of workers. It’s different from an employee in a company who files a complaint against his employer for abuse or non-payment of wages. The employee doesn’t have to live with his boss, nor depend on him for food, shelter and safety.
Based on your personal experience, what do you think about the treatment of maids in Singapore?


  1. monoceros

    Treatment of maids here seem to warrant more criticism than praise. My neighbor has changed maids very many times because each one runs away after a few or several months. I want to tell her, don’t you get it, it’s not the maids who are at fault but you. Another neighbor’s maid lives with an old lady who is mean, verbally abuses her, and doesn’t give her enough to eat. Another family I know – upper-middle class, doctor-mom – installed hidden cameras into her home because she doesn’t trust the maid. If employers can’t treat their maids decently, can’t bring themselves to trust someone they chose to bring into their homes in the first place, then they should find some other means to get help at home, don’t have a live-in maid. Unless of course, they basically want to have someone to push around, someone whose role assigns them power and the circumstances to abuse it. There are good employers, but in my experience, they aren’t in high enough numbers to give the community a passing grade for humane employment.

  2. airhole

    Sad to say, I have to agree with ms mono. I feel that the problems that we (i.e. Singaporeans) have with maids is simply a breakdown of our very own societal fabric. Our values have shifted to a rather one sided area (i.e. money and power).
    We seem to have lost certain values and perhaps the will to seek out and confront our real problems. And these losses manifest themselves in the dysfunctionality of human relationships.
    And when we have power, the dysfunctionality is heightened. Make sense? I dunno, i just had a cup of coffee…

  3. mark

    Some maids get treated great. Some however don’t. Like the article says the labour laws and the system that brings them into the country is rotten and biased in the employers favour. Case in point. K and I gave statements to the police about a maid who had run from her employers house. We found her in the neighbourhood, all bruised, as we left a friend’s house. Her employers were trolling the streets in their big Merc asking “if we had seen their maid?”. We found her, took her inside called a taxi and took her to the police. I sorta wanted the employer to try stopping us. They followed us to the police station. When the police took our statements days later the officers said the maids employer was the head of a company and well respected. They also said that maid abuse was reasonably common and that they had had a lot of cases. The system needs to change. Just labour laws need to be enacted and enforced. The maid we rescued had to stay in the embassy waiting for her case to be heard. In that time she could not go anywhere, could not earn any money. After the case was heard, in which we think the employer probably pled guilty and paid a fine, the maid would have to look for another job or go back home. Blah, a poor system that gives all the power to the employers. OK, rant over. I miss Singapore, especially the antics and cooking of a certain maid and her sister, Beef Rendang and Chicken Curry like you wouldn’t believe and a heart of gold… wonder how she is getting along?

  4. walter

    For this issue, I think we need to look at it in perspective rather than just hear what a foreign NGO has to say. Unfortunately, Singapore has always been a whipping boy by Western powers, and this is yet another blatant example.
    We must ask ourselves why Singaporeans hire maids in the first place. Very often, it is out of sheer necessity. For me and my wife, we simply had no choice but to hire a maid after struggling for nearly 2 years with an energetic and demanding 2-year old. We also don’t feel that it is fair to tax both our fast aging parents to take care of our son all the time.
    Having come from a different world and culture, many maids will find it difficult to cope initially with the 200 km/h speed and 101 things happening in Singapore. We need to be patient to train, educate and teach them.
    On the one hand, maids are not slaves or bond servants but employees. They work to draw a salary, receive lodging, food and have some basic necessities met. They need time to rest, recuperate, relax and unwind just like anyone of us.
    On the other hand, employers hire maids because they really need the help. They need an extra pair of helping hands to clean the house, cook dinner, change bedsheets, do the laundry etc. Like any employee, they must also understand that there will be rewards for good work and reprimands for poor or shoddy work.

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