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.
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.”
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 ArabianBusiness.com.]
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