SINGAPORE — Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said on Wednesday (24 February) that there is no place for abuse of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore and called for an end to it.
Singapore has to “do better” to provide the community of support for FDWs, Teo added in a post on her Facebook page.
Teo was reacting to the horrific abuse case involving Piang Ngaih Don, a 24-year-old maid from Myanmar, who died after she was killed by her employer Gaiyathiri Murugayan due to repeated choking.
"The Government takes the protection of FDWs seriously and will let the law run its course. The suffering and death of Ms Piang should never have happened. Abuse is abhorrent, whoever the victims are. When it involves FDWs, all the more we have to act," Teo said.
Gaiyathiri pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 28 charges involving culpable homicide, grievous hurt, hurt, wrongful restraint and criminal intimidation. The prosecution is pushing for a life jail sentence.
Piang had 47 external injuries and 31 fresh scars all over her body through repeated abuse. She weighed just 24kg, having lost 38 per cent of her initial weight of 39kg at the time of her death.
Gaiyathiri’s policeman-husband Kevin Chelvam and her mother Prema S Naraynasamy are facing multiple charges of abuse and others.
Over the years, the authorities have implemented safeguards such as a settling-in programme for first-time FDWs, so they know who they can approach for help, Teo said. These include the MOM hotline or NGOs such as Centre for Domestic Employees - CDE or . Employers also need to attend an orientation programme on their roles and responsibilities while the authorities also work with NGOs who engage and look out for the workers.
Piang worked in Singapore for less than a year and had attended the settling-in-programme, according to Teo. She was later examined by doctors on at least two occasions, between six and 10 months of her employment. Her employment agency also spoke with her on two separate occasions.
“Sadly, on none of these occasions were signs of her distress picked up,” said Teo.
Even as the case is tried in court, Singapore Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) review to protect FDWs will continue, Teo said. These would include the threshold for blacklisting errant employers, as well as improving measures to detect abuse.
“We can’t do it alone. We appeal to you for help too. If you are aware of any ill-treatment of foreign domestic workers, or foreign domestic workers facing employment or other issues to reach out to Centre for Domestic Employees or FAST for help. FDWs can also call the MOM helpline at 1800 339 5505 to speak to an MOM officer.”
In a separate statement on Wednesday, MOM said it expressed its deepest sympathies to Piang's next-of-kin. At the time of her death, MOM ensured that a full insurance payout was made to the next-of-kin, consisting of the full death benefit, repatriation cost and a special gratuity payment. CDE had also made a donation to Piang's family and facilitated her brother’s visit to Singapore, MOM added.
In the first six months of Piang’s employment, Chelvam had provided feedback to the employment agent (EA) on communication problems and work performance, MOM said. The EA had offered to replace Piang multiple times, but Chelvam did not take up the offers, according to MOM. During this period, the EA had spoken to Piang on two different occasions but did not pick up on any issues.
Chelvam and his family members had previously employed four other FDWs and MOM said it had not received any complaints or adverse feedback from them.
"MOM will intensify our efforts to reach out to and interview all new FDWs about their well-being, and also engage with healthcare providers to see how we can support them to identify cases of possible abuse," the ministry said.
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