Is Singapore Facing a 'Care Drain'?

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What would happen if Singapore was ranked among the world’s countries according to how it treats foreign domestic workers?

It would probably receive a mediocre score.

Despite being ranked the top “expat destination” by HSBC and a country to which highly skilled expats flock, Singapore is not necessarily the best place to work in the world for domestic workers.

In an op-ed for Channel News Asia, Professor Anju Mary Paul from NUS-Yale, concedes that domestic workers in Singapore are generally treated better than their peers in the Middle East as they can expect higher wages, more freedom of movement, and a day-off.

Still, Singapore is not on par with other rich nations:

In Ontario, Canada, for instance, these workers are eligible for minimum hourly wage rates (that are much more generous than Singapore’s), overtime pay, paid sick leave, weekly days-off and paid public holidays off. They are also required to be either given a private room or paid extra so they can “live out”.

In Chile, FDWs who successfully complete a two-year contract can apply for permanent resident status.

But some might argue that it is not fair to compare Singapore, a city-state, with such large countries, and that Singapore’s small size means that it cannot afford to be as generous as others when it comes to the treatment of FDWs.

So how does Singapore compare with another small territory like Hong Kong?

Hong Kong, Paul writes, surpasses Singapore in a few key areas. While neither offers permanent residence to foreign domestic workers, Hong Kong has a minimum allowable wage for domestic workers set at HK$4,410 a month — far higher than Singapore. Furthermore, Hong Kong guarantees that by law domestic workers’ day of rest must be a continuous 24-hour period of rest, and domestic workers are entitled to maternity leave and cannot be fired for becoming pregnant.

Yet perhaps most important, the 300,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong are covered under city’s Employment Ordinance that also protects native-born workers.

Bharati Jagdish, the host of Channel News Asia’s On The Record, believes Singapore needs to step up. “We pride ourselves on being a First World nation, so shouldn’t we endeavour to apply First World standards of fairness to our treatment of all workers including guest workers here?”

Paul’s own research shows that Singapore may be facing what she calls a ‘care drain’, with migrant domestic workers seeking better shores for employment. In her research on Indonesian and Filipino domestic workers, she found most came to Singapore after working in the Middle East, but many of them hope to move on to better places like Hong Kong.

This migration pattern is already happening. Of the 250 domestic workers Paul surveyed in Hong Kong, more 50% had worked in another country before. The most common place they moved from? Singapore.

For Paul, the Singapore’s desire to attract foreign talent should also apply to its migrant domestic worker population. She hopes for “the day when Singapore is named the best ‘foreign domestic worker destination’ in the world.

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