What Can We Do To Stop Foreign Worker And Helper Abuse?

We’ve seen many human rights abuse cases, like the couple who are accused of starving their maid.

And NTUC’s Migrant Worker Centre also recently conducted a raid on a dorm which had forced the workers to sleep in small spaces, share a few toilets and even padlocked them in! Is this an accurate reflection of our society? That Singaporeans are heartless, mercenary, and probably inhumane too?


I do think the media often highlights an issue or two, then blows it out of proportion. The more attention a story gets, the more resources are diverted to covering the story. And on and on it goes till it becomes a vicious cycle of news reporting.

And before foreigners start thinking that Singaporeans starve their domestic helpers and are brutal slavedrivers, I’d like to share my own experience of meeting a domestic helper…

I am reminded of a family I know that recently got a change of maid after the contract for the first one ended. And my goodness, I can meet that first maid just once and remember her for a lifetime. Let’s call her Maria.

So, when I popped by the family’s HDB flat, Maria “greets” me with this twitching of her eyebrows:

Eyebrow Twitching GIF

I kid you not. I was so stunned I didn’t know how to respond. I may have watched too many episodes of The Noose – doesn’t Leticia say “Good morning, Sir. Good Morning Ma’am” or something like that? What if I did that eyebrow twitching action in return?😀 Ahaha! There was no other greeting, and definitely no drink at all.

Other things I noticed were how the home wasn’t as clean as what you’d expect a place with a domestic helper should look and feel like. And I was even told that Maria was given more off days than stated in her contract and she was even PAID for those days off. She visited restaurants together with the family, and also went overseas with them (I saw the pictures). And if she wasn’t twitching those eyebrows at me, she was talking loudly on her mobile phone while walking about the house, or while ironing clothes, as if the house solely belonged to her.

Yup, I was flabbergasted. And solemnly vowed to never ever hire a domestic helper. I’ve also heard too many horror stories from friends who employ these helpers, although there are also stories of households which have very close relationships with good helpers (but you know, Singaporeans like to complain more than they appreciate).

On the other hand, what happens when there are a handful of ‘black sheep’, employers who bully their helpers and perhaps, even torture them?


Well, we are no longer living during ‘kampong days’ when we step in and out of our neighbor’s homes. We are now all cloistered in our HDB apartments, condominium units, or landed property. Do we even know what’s happening next door? And more importantly, do we even care?

I think many Singaporeans have the ‘kaypoh’ trait. And if utilized wisely, can prevent future cases of abuse from happening, or by nipping them in the bud to prevent unnecessary suffering.

We, as a society, can be more proactive in reporting such cases of abuse to the authorities! But more importantly, we need to be more alert first. Some neighbors abuse the elderly folk at home, some rent out rooms illegally, some have vice activities within their flats, and others may be ill-treating their domestic helpers. But do you even KNOW it’s happening?

If we keep our eyes and ears open to signals of distress, we can definitely stop future cases of foreign worker abuse from happening. Like us, they are all human and even if they come from less privileged backgrounds, they are not slaves nor servants. If we treat them as our helpers, as extra hands and legs in times of (our) need, we’ll know exactly how to respond to them, even if they have interesting ways of greeting us and our guests *wink*.

To report cases of domestic worker abuse, you can call the 24-hour helpline (1800 2255 233) of the Centre for Domestic Employees or CDE (operated by NTUC and supported by MOM).

CDE was opened on 24 January 2016 to assist 230,000 foreign domestic workers here AND Singaporean domestic employees (I bet not many of you remember this group exists). The latter group includes personal drivers, gardeners, nannies and personal security officers.

Centre For Domestic Employees

Source: NTUC

But what if it’s the employer who needs help managing his/her domestic helper? CDE also offers education (for both employer and helper) and other preventive measures to foster better understanding, communication and relationship between these two.

Perhaps this could have helped my friend avoid the hassle of having to look for a new helper, if the relationship between her and Maria could have been salvaged to be more amicable.

Yeo Guat Kwang

Pic: Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Chairman for CDE, with guests from MOM, including Divisional Director from Foreign Manpower Management Division (Source: Flora Isabelle)

If you also know of a migrant worker who needs to seek help, tell the person about the 24-hour hotline (6536 2692) they can call, which is manned by the Migrant Workers’ Centre, which also has a mobile outreach unit called FREIDA.

Migrant Workers Helpline

Source: TNP

If the worker is too afraid or is unable to make a report, then you’ll have to step up and help him/her.

Let’s keep Singapore safe for not just Singaporeans, but for all who call this island home (even if it’s for a short period of time).