Singapore's migrant domestic workers face food rationing, long hours and sexual abuse

Press/Media: Expert Comment


Provided comments for media. Below are the citations:


Secondly, they are required to live with their employers, a stipulation unique to foreign domestic workers.

The Ministry of Manpower told the ABC that Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia also have such requirements.

"Living-in blurs the distinction between work and leisure," Dr Nicholas Harrigan, assistant professor in sociology at the Singapore Management University, said.

"This is a problem because if someone isn't really allowed to leave their workplace except for a few hours on a Sunday, then they really are technically working almost 24/7."


Singapore's reliance on migrant domestic workers will not diminish any time soon, but the challenge to eliminate exploitation remains.

"The biggest change that could be made to improve domestic workers' conditions in Singapore is to bring them under the jurisdiction of the Employment Act," Dr Harrigan said.

"This would set clear standards around working time and rest, at the very least."

He said another change would be to allow domestic workers to live away from their workplace, in group housing, to reduce exploitation of working hours.

Period6 Apr 2016

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleSingapore's migrant domestic workers face food rationing, long hours and sexual abuse
    Degree of recognitionNational
    Media name/outletABC News
    Media typeWeb
    DescriptionRELATED STORY: Thousands rally for Indonesian maid in Hong Kong
    Jocelyn Mompal's eyes filled with tears when she recalled her first visit home to the Philippines after working in Singapore.

    "My two younger kids did not come to me," she said.

    "Only my eldest son hugged me. I asked them why? And they said they felt shy. It was like they didn't know me."

    A migrant worker sits in a stairwell.
    PHOTO: A survey of 670 domestic workers found 65 per cent had not always been treated with dignity. (Supplied: Kirsten Han)
    Ms Mompal arrived in Singapore 16 years ago, searching for a steady wage to clear debts and provide her children with a good education.

    The arc of her story is not unique.

    In December last year, official figures showed well over 230,000 migrant women worked as domestic help in the city-state.

    They come from developing countries nearby, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia, drawn to Singapore — a wealthy metropolis of opportunity.

    Migrant domestic workers occupy an awkward position in Singapore's labour landscape.
    Producer/AuthorKirsten Han
    PersonsNicholas Harrigan