Among the many headlines that we have seen in 2020, there has been a consistency with the number of maid abuse cases happening in Singapore recently, and especially so during the circuit breaker period.

Living in close proximity with family members for a prolonged period of time can be quite challenging for some, but for a maid, or domestic helper where work is also home, the challenges are different. Besides the cultural and language differences for those who are still new to their employers, the increased work demands have also led some of them towards drastic reactions, like the recent case involving a domestic helper who climbed down 15 storeys from the balcony of her flat to escape her abusive employer.

There are usually two sides in any situation but the key question remains, where do we draw the line between scolding and being abusive?

What is Maid Abuse?

Maid abuse as a legal term, consists of physical and psychological abuse which we have covered in an earlier article. With physical abuse, the Court considers the degree of harm, aggravating and mitigating factors, and with psychological abuse, the degree of harm caused is factored in.

As we have published here, the sentencing framework is meant to guide and clarify maid abuse cases as seen in the examples. These also include emotional abuse, and being forced into “humiliating and degrading” situations. 

This can also include repeated verbal abuse over a period of time that affects the victim’s emotional and mental state, leading to prolonged loss of appetite and massive weight loss even if there was never any physical violence committed. In this case, even words may be enough to cause damage to the victim and may be considered as a factor in court.

Do Working Conditions Contribute to Maid Abuse?

A CNN Report from 2017 highlighted the results of an independent survey by Research Across Borders titled “Bonded to the System” which revealed that a large number of migrant domestic workers in Singapore were vulnerable to labour exploitation, mainly due to a lack of adequate work regulations and legal protection such as being made to work additional hours outside their scope, as witnessed in the recent case involving Parti Liyani, or issues related to their salary. Since there isn’t a traditional minimum wage law in place in Singapore, most domestic workers earn on average, about S$600 a month.

According to an October 2019 survey conducted by YouGov, about 52% of Singaporeans believe domestic helpers should earn more than S$600 a month. About 88% are convinced that domestic helpers are leading a decent quality of life at the minimum, with only 12% describing it as poor. In the same survey, 14% of the respondents have witnessed a domestic helper being abused and 79% of them have heard of someone being abused, of whom 81% of them agree that more can be done to improve the quality of life for domestic helpers in Singapore.  

What Happens if I Scold My Maid But She Accuses Me of Abusing Her?

While this may have happened many times before, it is always advisable to be respectful and mindful no matter how badly your maid has erred. Never physically assault her and be wary of cultural and even religious differences when deciding your approach to communicating your grievances with her. If she does lodge a complaint against you, then you should speak to a lawyer.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Whenever you are faced in an abrasive situation with your maid, it’s best to first determine the actions committed and what options you have to deal with the situation. You should deal directly with your maid’s agency but in the event that option is not currently available, then ensure that communication is done in a civil manner. You may also bookmark this site for tips on how to deal in unexpected situations.

If you are currently facing a serious issue, either as a domestic helper or an employer that can’t be solved at home, you should consult a lawyer who will be able to guide you through the process.

Help for Domestic Helpers in Singapore

For domestic helpers who need help, you may reach out to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) or by contacting them at:

  • 1800 797 7977 (Toll-free)
  • +65 9787 3122 (Whatsapp / Viber / SMS)

Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu of Amarjit Sidhu Law Corporation has represented numerous clients in a wide variety of matters over the years from traffic offences, high-profile criminal cases – to family and divorce matters. With a vast knowledge of Singapore’s laws and a wealth of experience, Mr Amarjit Singh Sidhu will be able to provide valuable and timely advice for your situation. For more information, feel free to contact us for a consultation.

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