Is it illegal to exhibit Filipino maids in store display windows in Singapore malls?

By now, the now infamous report “Buy a discount maid at Singapore’s malls” featured by Al Jazeera last week has been shared and re-shared on social media as well as published and re-published by mainstream news organisations, further inflaming outrage among Filipinos whose egos have already taken severe beatings thanks to some media gaffes and online vilification campaigns emerging in recent days.

Questionable approaches to marketing Filipino workers have been uncovered in Singapore.

Questionable approaches to marketing Filipino workers have been uncovered in Singapore.

When it rains, it pours. The Al Jazeera report described how, in a Singapore mall, domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar are on display on store windows, sometimes advertised as being on “super promo” or “special discount” rates. The report has sparked a furor over what is regarded as a degrading commoditisation of migrant workers in Singapore. No less than the Philippines’ Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay has reportedly expressed “deep concern” over the report calling on the Philippine embassy there to “make proper representations with the Singapore authorities” to investigate this “indignity” these workers are seemingly suffering. According to Binay, these practices constitute “a violation of an international convention protecting the rights of migrant workers,” and is confident that “such acts will not be tolerated by Singapore.”

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Beyond being observed as “listless” and in a state of “artificial silence” in the Al Jazeera report, however, no other reliable reports on the matter so far confirm whether or not these workers are in actual distress. According to the Convention 189 & Recommendation 201 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the 15th November 2011, domestic workers are guaranteed “minimum labour protections on par with other categories of workers, while allowing for considerable flexibility in implementation.” The Convention, specifically relevant to this matter, directs ILO member countries to elminate “all forms of forced or compulsory labour,” and eliminate “discrimination in respect of employment and occupation” as a matter of fundamental workers’rights principle (Article 3).

Specific articles also stipulate that strong measures be taken to protect these workers from “all forms of abuse, harrassment, and violence” (Article 5) and that they be provided “decent working conditions and, if they reside in the household, decent living conditions that respect their privacy”.

It seems, then, that it may be a stretch in the interpretation of international convention with regard to domestic workers to take the Singapore government to task on the matter of the practices exposed by the Al Jazeera report. Opportunity may lie, however, in Article 15 of the convention, which stipulates that members shall (citing items relevant to the subject)…

(c) adopt all necessary and appropriate measures, within its jurisdiction and, where appropriate, in collaboration with other Members, to provide adequate protection for and prevent abuses of domestic workers recruited or placed in its territory by private employment agencies. These shall include laws or regulations that specify the respective obligations of the private employment agency and the household towards the domestic worker and provide for penalties, including prohibition of those private employment agencies that engage in fraudulent practices and abuses; [and,]

(d) consider, where domestic workers are recruited in one country for work in another, concluding bilateral, regional or multilateral agreements to prevent abuses and fraudulent practices in recruitment, placement and employment[.]

The above, however, still leaves a yawning loophole through which the offending retailing practice in that Singapore mall may hop through as the Convention remains silent on the manner with which jurisdiction over personnel is managed prior to being assumed by final employers.

As of this writing, the Philippines Overseas Labor Office (POLO) is reportedly investigating the matter. According to DFA spokesman Charles Jose, the Philippine government can only pursue the matter “in coordination with Singapore authorities,” and admits that most of the agencies implicated in these scandals are “legitimate” engaging in practices the legality or illegality of which is still subject to evaluation. For now, POLO will start with investigating “the manner [with] which they are promoting their business.”

So far there is no reported official statement released by the Singapore government on the matter.

[Photo courtesy]

25 Replies to “Is it illegal to exhibit Filipino maids in store display windows in Singapore malls?”

  1. in my own opinion, NO. we have to accept the reality that we are an exporter of maids and this ads attracts costumer, same with other businesses.

    1. i think you’re seeing this with self deprecation but this need not be about filipinos.

      as far as i know it is not illegal, the same methods are employed in other industries but naturally there is the hint of oppression because these are “maids” and not models/escorts

      there is this view people can be treated as commodities in singapore. it’s not about filipinos but cheap labour as a whole and the treatment of it. from my understanding it applies to poor singaporeans as well with the view if you’re poor you deserve it because you must be lazy.

      since you’re lazy and not improving yourselves you deserve anything coming to you. you exist simply as a leech for those more well off ones who pay taxes to keep you alive.
      we have another post from a self proclaimed singaporean in the article regarding anti filipino anger and his words were he paid taxes so if he’s not complaining those who don’t pay as much don’t have the right to.

      that’s the reality of the labour market in singapore

    2. reading through the original article , it’s not even about filipinos? how did this get an article here?

      this is the sole time “filipinos” were mentioned


      is it because “filipinos are smarter” ?

  2. the mall in question is actually a “maid mall/shopping”

    not your normal shopping centre . you don’t go there unless you need to hire a maid.
    the things you see inside would draw protests if you allow them to be seen in normal malls .

    “$20 to feed 40 people.” is crazy
    that’s only slightly less than 700peso

    i need like min $2-3 a meal for a poor meal and $3-4 for something “ok”
    $20 is more acceptable for around max 10 people if you cook yourself

  3. Question, is there even an effort from Philippine government to decrease our export of maids? Like thinking of alternative job creation (factory work or something).

    1. Explain to me pinoy pride? (I am not blaming you) You see the fact that there are so few opportunities here that many of us go abroad and many places are hazardous not only to dignity but physical well being. We have so many OFWs because there are no opportunities yet Proud to Pinoy! and More Fun In The Philippines!!! ?? People love the Philippines so much that Filipinos go elsewhere in droves. So there is pride in that?

  4. Those must be low standards for ‘decent living conditions that respect their privacy,’ since it seems employers can insist on their household help being single and staying that way. Then again, I even see that stipulation in posters recruiting for fast food staff in the Philippines. Don’t do anything stupid like fall in love, or your dream burger flipping career will be over.

    1. the situation is you have to be either single or married, do not expect to get a bf.
      the employer have to pay a bond to the govt of singapore for the maid to be hired, in thousands, last heard 4-5 years ago $5000 sgd?

      if the maid feels unhappy and walks off the job and disappears the bond is forfeited same goes for pregnancy, bun in the oven=bye bye $5000

      so all employers are very clear about this.
      there isn’t too many blue collared filipino men here, so the general choice of men tend to be indians or Bangladeshis and coupled with the catholic restriction for birth control(unprotected sex)—>unwanted babies happen.

      unless you’re a white collared filipino lady, it is considered degrading for singaporean men to go out with filipino women due to the maid label(not that it stopped them)

      another situation involving maids and their boyfriends is the majority of the parents are both working leaving the maid in charge of the household.
      the maid would bring the boyfriend home and have sex in the masterbedroom on the employer’s bed leaving the babies outside. without consent of course.

      singapore is highly urbanized there isn’t much hidden bush for you to do your business near govt flats. not to mention well lit streets


        i have never seen it in person but anecdotal accounts reported the area is used for love making
        the employer can’t forbid it after you hire the maid, only before . so a lot of maids , still go on to have a boyfriend after becoming a maid in singaore and considering how prudish the singaporean public is they’re not exactly having a wholesome view of this east coast park thing.
        not that singaporeans don’t do it, but they don’t expect 50 tents maybe 1-2 every now and then.
        and no one dare to speak up openly as it’s within personal rights to be there and at the end of the day it’s a human need. plus speaking up means you’re racist.

  5. It is like the slave bidding blocks in the U.S. Southern States; during the slave trading time. A slave would stand on the block; and the buyers, inspect them. Only, it has gone modern. It is done in the mall, with pictures of the domestic workers…it is good they did not distribute, discount coupons.

    Binay cannot do anything. The only good thing to do: is create jobs and opportunities, here in the Philippines. So that people will not go and work in foreign countries; and sell their dignities. What has Binay done in creating jobs and opportunities? What has Aquino done in creating jobs and opportunities? What have Congress and the Senate done in creating job opportunities?

    All they have done is Politics, and stealing Pork Barrel Funds…

    1. eh.. i think there may be some form of discount coupons, the marriage agencies work the same way too .

      this thing about filipinos as maids, why maids?
      my encounters with filipinos as workers in singapore generally have them as maids, and if they are blue collared workers they are likely married to a local.
      similar paying jobs for all other foreign nationalities from cleaners to sales clerks rarely have non grad filipinos.

      one pet peeve of people and when filipino grads first came in was staff from china do not speak english , when the singaporeans insisted all chinese must speak english in singapore the chinese would say it’s racial discrimination and if you’re chinese what is wrong with speaking mandarin to the prc staff.
      so at least initially filipinos were welcomed as a balance to PRC mainland chinese due to the filipinos speaking some form of english.
      but it’s the grads who came to work in low level positions instead of the non grads

  6. It reminds me of the one-way window in prostitution houses. You know, customers look at the window to see girls sitting at the benches and pick who they want. So the question is, is this human trafficking or a front for such? And, displaying people in windows maybe treating humans as a commodity, and could be a violation of human rights.

    1. in singapore, what’s considered human rights in unwritten form, is basic food/ basic shelter/water/very basic health care

      anything else is a luxury

      legality in singapore is notably different from philippines , as long as it’s not killing you it’s legal. results/bottomline come first for businesses.
      when the average citizen is an economic digit , most do not consider this a violation of human rights as long as it’s out of sight.

      1. Legaly in Philippines is nobody follows the law, or beg ignorance of the law

        if Singapore was so pathetic, why are Filipinos going in plane loads ?

        last count, atleast 6000 seats / passengers a day travel to / from Singapore .. don’t tell me all of them are affluent tourists going for bacayshon ..

        most are going to beg, borrow or steal a job ..

  7. This world was never fair, filipino destiny is the slave race of Asia. A few may escape this fate, but the majority will always be so lah.

    I love to hire the young maid, but I always do a good body check before I purchase, touch face, middle and below, watch her eye can tell if she is a wet and willing spinner haha! They know their place well, but still need a safe in house otherwise they will stealing, you cannot blame them, they are human in body but the mind still a little bit like animal.

    You guys here maybe the smarter filipino so is different, but not to be racist, most of yout countrymen and women is lazy prostitute fraud or thief from the casa to melacanang, its in the dna and culture la.

  8. Reminds me of those movies about slave trading. You see these people haggling over the price of a person. This is no different. They may not be in visible chains, but believe me, they are slaves. They may be getting a salary, but they are slaves just the same.

  9. If it’s so shameful leave. But of course you won’t. That’s the real shame! Treated like shit in Singapore is far preferable to being treated like shit in the Failipines

  10. Looks like the “subservient” demeanor of the Filipinos has reached an all time low with this one. Goodness, I can’t believe how desperate one can be just to put food on the table for their families. Dignity is surely becoming an alien concept for these people.

  11. This is a question for Singaporean authorities. if you were a Filipino ‘MAID’ working in a foreign country, would you want people using your picture and describing your job title to total strangers? IDK, but whatever anyone thinks it is not a debate to be won in the public forum.

  12. one thing is crtain about this situation: Jejomar Binay doesn’t give a good shit about anyone working in Singapore. The guy is a self-serving weasel/thief. and that is all.

  13. I don’t get it ..

    Philippines export maids in truck load, and then insist the maids must be treated this way or that way

    why not simply stop exporting maids ?

    no, cannot do, as no jobs at home .. yah right ..

    And the current president even recently begged the Singapore president to give more preference for Filipinos to work in Singapore

    I wonder when Filipinos will get real and see that they are in this predicament because of themselves, nobody else ..

    and for those who are blaming Binay and all, well, let the tell you this ..

    The maid agents are running a business, and they need to make money

    what is technically wrong, vs, I see in Manila, the drain cleaners sitting on a road side, and being picked for work, and SM advertising Minimum / maximum height/weight ?

    Atleast in Singapore you don’t see employers asking for min/max age/weight/height

    If Philippines was so ‘correct’ then go and yell and Singapore, and don’t forget to recall all your maids back..

    “Nelvis is one of a long tradition of Filipino-American employees at the White House. While the Navy began using Filipinos as stewards after the Spanish-American War, the tradition moved to the White House during the Taft administration, says White House historian William Seale.

    After serving as governor of the Philippines, William Howard Taft brought back several servants and took them with him when he was elected president. “They were very much favored as White House staff, and remain a presence there,” says Seale”

    1. “Few people, even among his senior advisers, had more frequent or closer physical proximity to President Clinton than Bayani Nelvis and Glen Maes, the two White House stewards who worked in a small pantry just off the Oval Office near where Clinton and Monica S. Lewinsky had their sexual encounters.” – WASHINGTON POST

      Bayani Nelvis and Glen Maes are both Filipinos

      GLEN MAES'actualit%C3%A9/white-house-steward-glen-maes-leaves-the-us-district-photo-dactualit%C3%A9/51640390

      BAYANI NELVIS'actualit%C3%A9/presidential-valet-bayani-nelvis-walks-outside-of-photo-dactualit%C3%A9/51641384

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