While the COVID-19 outbreak has affected almost everyone worldwide, not everyone has the privilege of working from home.
And sadly, not everyone is being paid due to the current bad economy where so many companies are not getting business and employees are instead, either retrenched, taking pay cuts, or unpaid leave.
After the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that all new or returning foreign domestic workers (FDWs) had to serve a 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN), many employers have been taking extreme measures to ensure that their domestic workers are not potential carriers of the virus.
Stay Home Even If It’s Your Rest Day
According to an interview by The New Paper with the director of employment agency Workforce Manpower, Mr Michael Khan, one Filipina domestic worker had her work permit cancelled because “her employer told her she could not afford to pay her if she was quarantined”.
And as anyone would be, the FDW is now very unhappy because she no longer has a job.
Most of us know that all FDWs are entitled to one rest day a week, where they usually go out to meet with their friends or do some shopping. Basically, things that they aren’t usually allowed to do on the other days that they are working.
Some common hangout places they would go to are Lucky Plaza, City Plaza, and Peninsula Plaza.
However, ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, employment agencies have revealed that some employers have told their domestic workers to stay home instead of going out despite it being their rest day.
And to ensure that they stay home, these employers have resorted to threatening to cancel their work permits. These foreign domestic workers are also threatened not to return on home leave to countries that are badly affected by COVID-19.
Other than cancelling their work permits, some employers have reportedly withheld their domestic workers’ salaries simply because they spent their rest day outside instead of at home.
Valid Concerns, But Wrong Approach
Mr Khan then explained that this happens because the employers are afraid of who they may come into contact with when they’re out on their rest day. He said, “Employers have legitimate concerns, especially those with elderly parents or young children at home.”
I guess it’s fair to have such concerns, but to threaten them and not give them what they rightfully earned is something that should be reviewed. No one should have to be subjected to this kind of treatment.
Ms Lynn Ng, the owner of the employment agency Achieve Employment shared, “Some of the maids feel it is unfair that their employers can go out while they themselves can’t.”
The MOM advisory had to step in to explain the situation to the domestic workers, only then did more of them decide to just stay at home.
The problem here lies in the lack of communication between the employer and the domestic worker.
In order to put employers’ minds at ease, MOM reassured them and announced that there will be more inspections held at the common hangout places to disperse any large groups of FDWs.
Work Without Pay
Those FDWs who willingly chose to stay at home on their rest days end up working without getting paid for it.
A representative for the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), a charity advocating migrant workers’ rights, said, “It may be difficult for FDWs to assert their rights for fear of displeasing their employers, or getting terminated.”
This is understandable since there are also many cases where employers have abused their FDWs for not obeying their instructions.
Mr Khan also shared that it is difficult to draw a line between asking for simple favours and extra work that FDWs deserve to be paid for.
One 44-year-old employer, Ms Sherlyn Soh, commented that her FDW willingly chose to stay home during her rest day, and as such, she is compensated for the work that she does on that day. She remarked, “I have an eight-year-old daughter, so naturally I am concerned. But my helper and I discussed it openly and respectfully, and she was very understanding.”
Unfortunately, not every employer would do the same.
In another case, one FDW had to remit money back to her family in her home country but was not allowed to go out during her rest day by her employer.
After the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST) found out about the incident, they helped to mediate the situation and the employer ultimately accompanied the FDW to the mall for the remittance.
The executive director of the Centre for Domestic Employees, Mr Shamsul Kamar, said, “Both parties should mutually agree on rest day arrangements since the rest day is fundamentally the right of a (domestic worker).”
After all, they’re humans too.
While you, as an employer, have your own concerns, they too, have their own rights to freedom. These kinds of things can be solved through communication and mutual understanding. You should not resort to threatening them just to listen to you because it may have adverse effects.