The Ministry of Manpower has stepped up measures to protect foreign domestic workers from risky practices in their employers' homes, such as educating both employer and the foreign domestic worker on dangerous work conditions, raising public awareness on the matter and enforcing the law against those who do not comply with MOM laws. Minister of State Tan Chuan Jin highlights these steps in his blog post, which is carried here in full.
Safety begins at home: By Tan Chuan Jin
6 FDWs (foreign domestic worker) fell to their deaths over the past 3 months while working for their employers. Even Singaporeans were not spared. Last month, a 64-year-old housewife and mother of two fell to her death from her flat while cleaning the window.
That’s just unacceptable and a needless loss of lives.
Accidents like these should never have happened – yet they did. A commentary on Yahoo! Singapore also lamented the senseless loss of lives, arising from performing domestic chores like cleaning windows.
Over the years (2007-2011), we have also seen some 45 non-fatal falls from heights where FDWs survived to tell their tales. So far this year, there has been one such unfortunate case.
MOM has been concerned about this for awhile and we have been working on ways to minimize these accidents. We held a media briefing this afternoon, the intent being to educate employers that the safety of their FDWs should not be taken for granted.
Like any other employees, FDWs deserve a safe working environment at home. We have adopted a three-pronged approach to address FDW safety issues:
First-time FDWs undergo the Safety Awareness Course (SAC), which covers basic domestic high-rise safety. The SAC will be subsumed under the Settling-in Programme (SIP), which will be implemented by the middle of this year. FDWs are also given a Handy Guide and Safety Pamphlet in their native language during SAC to reinforce these safety messages. Our safety messages continue to be reinforced through “INFORM”, our bi-annual FDW newsletter, which is mailed to FDWs. In fact, the April edition also has an article on FDW safety.
MOM has recently conducted a 1-week trial of the SIP with more than 100 FDWs, and invited stakeholders from the employers group, the employment agencies and VWOs, to sit in to help us make improvements. We will refine the SIP content and pay greater attention to see how the safety module, especially, the practical session, can be improved so the workers learn better.
MOM will also be working with the trainers to identify workers who are unsure about how to apply the safety instructions they learned, provide the information to the respective employment agencies and employers, so that closer supervision and coaching can be given to the workers.
First-time FDW employers also go through the Employers’ Orientation Programme (EOP), which covers their legal obligations and responsibilities, as well as FDW management issues. They are given a FDW Employer Handy Guide that includes information on safety awareness and management of FDWs. Safety issues are often highlighted in our six-monthly newsletter “INFOCUS” for FDW employers.
Through media publicity, we hope to raise public awareness, so that the safety of FDWs will not be taken for granted. Today’s briefing is one way of getting the media’s help to raise awareness. We will continue to publicise successful prosecutions of FDW employers who put their workers’ lives at risk.
MOM takes feedback on unsafe work practices very seriously, and investigates FDWs and their employers to ensure compliance with Work Permit conditions.
We obtain feedback through first-time FDW interviews, where we are able to determine if FDWs have adjusted to Singapore’s working environment, and a dedicated FDW Helpline, which FDWs can call in to seek assistance.
Between 2007 and 2011, 14 FDW employers were found to have breached the Work Permit conditions for endangering the lives of FDWs. Nine of them were prosecuted and fined, and permanently debarred from hiring FDWs, while the rest had their offences compounded.
MOM needs employers to play a key role in providing a safe working environment as they are the ones who can help inculcate a safety mindset in FDWs. We will continue to enforce against employers who disregard the safety of their FDWs. For these employers, they are unfit to hire a FDW. Members of the public can do their part too. You can report to MOM if you see FDWs performing their chores in an unsafe manner (email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
One life lost is one too many. Let’s put a stop to this now.
MOS Tan Chuan-Jin