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Domestic worker denied entry at SCC: Private clubs’ rules are ‘discriminatory’, ‘archaic’, some say

SINGAPORE — Advocacy groups for migrant workers slammed the policies of some private country clubs here, after a domestic helper was barred from entering the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC).

A view of the Singapore Cricket Club at the Padang, taken on Nov 28, 2018. The club has been around since the mid-1800s and its earliest members were made up of British merchants, businessmen, office workers and governors.

A view of the Singapore Cricket Club at the Padang, taken on Nov 28, 2018. The club has been around since the mid-1800s and its earliest members were made up of British merchants, businessmen, office workers and governors.

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SINGAPORE — Advocacy groups for migrant workers slammed the policies of some private country clubs here, after a domestic helper was barred from entering the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC).

The incident, which happened last Friday (Nov 23), sparked a discussion on the policies of private social and sports clubs here, and drew mixed responses from members of other private clubs contacted by TODAY.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said that it is “discriminatory” and “elitist” to prohibit people from entering the club because of their social status. 

“This is outright discrimination. They should be given equal rights as other guests of club members,” a TWC2 spokesperson said.

“It is fair that clubs enact rules on use of facilities to protect members’ privilege, but banning certain groups of people from the premises because of their social status is discriminatory and elitist. This harks back to a time in history when people of certain races or ethnic groups are not allowed as guests or as members of exclusive clubs,” the spokesperson added.

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Home’s executive director Sheena Kanwar said: “Honestly, I cannot imagine what the rationale is for such a ban. It's terrible that such institutions, which are expected to be more accountable, can get away with such practices which are facilitated by their bylaws.”

Both groups urged SCC to revise its policy and “embrace more inclusive values”.

TWC2 said that it is not ethical for an enterprise or organisation to normalise discrimination and prejudices which should have no place in society today.

The incident came to light after freelance actor Nicholas Bloodworth, 33, took to Facebook to recount how his brother’s domestic helper, identified only as Mary, was denied entry into SCC when his family went to the club’s restaurant for dinner.

“It was not fair for Mary, who works hard and makes sacrifices like everyone else, to be deprived of having dinner with the family,” he wrote.

Mr Bloodworth’s father, who is a member of SCC, tried to sign Mary in as a guest, but was told by a staff member that maids are not allowed on the premises.

The staff member reportedly said: “They (referring to Mary) are not allowed in the club. At all. She has to wait in the car park.”

Mr Bloodworth said that when he asked the staff member how he would know that Mary was not a relative, the staff member replied: “I will know.”

In an interview with TODAY, Mr Bloodworth asked: “Is this how a staff differentiates between domestic helpers and guests, by just merely looking at a person? How exactly can they do so?”

Mr Bloodworth said that Mary was dressed according to the dress code of the club’s restaurant, which disallows open-toe footwear.

Mr Bloodworth said that Mary did not go to the car park, but waited at a nearby restaurant outside the club.

He called for SCC to be “clear” about its policies and to feature them more prominently. “Why are such rules so strongly enforced but hidden?” he asked, stating that both he and his father were not aware of such bylaws.

In response, SCC said that its club rules and bylaws are “mandated by our members” and “are available on our public domain website”.

“It is our members' obligation to be fully aware of and to comply with them, and to make sure their guests are aware of them.”

SCC did not address TODAY’s questions on the rationale behind having the bylaw that disallows domestic helpers and chauffeurs from stepping onto its premises.


While the policy was slammed by advocacy groups, there were mixed responses from the general public, including members of private country clubs.

SCC member Lennard, who did not want to give his full name and age, told TODAY that such a rule should be removed, “because everybody should have equal rights and access to the club”.

Another SCC member, who is in his 40s and gave his name as just ZW, said: “Is it an archaic rule? Maybe. But the fact of the matter is, it remains the rule of the club.” He added that the rule could have been made clearer to members.

Communications manager Sophie Wee, 30, who is not a member of any clubs in Singapore, said: “As long as the club allows members to invite their own guests, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t allow helpers in, (just as members may invite their) lawyers, clients or anyone else… This is 2018. Clubs like this need to evolve.”

However, Ms Fion Phua, a member of several private clubs, said that letting in too many people without some restrictions may not be in the club’s interest.

The golf membership broker, who is in her 40s, does not think that the policy is discriminatory.

“The rule is there in some clubs to make sure that the clubs don't get overcrowded and to prevent the misuse of facilities. What if every member has his or her own domestic helper in the club? The place may become overcrowded and members might not be able to properly enjoy the facilities and amenities. Will this then be fair to members who pay an exorbitant fee for the club membership?”

Ms Phua added that in the open market, people are paying “hundreds of thousands” for memberships to private clubs such as SCC and the Singapore Island Country Club.

She also said that not all clubs have this rule because each club serves “different purposes".

“For example, the Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) allows domestic helpers because it has more local members, and is (regarded to be) a place for family activities… these clubs tend to have swimming pools (as well), so it would make sense to allow maids.

“Whereas for a club like SCC, where most of the members go for business networking, the members prefer a quiet environment. You seldom see children around and so, it would also make sense if maids are not allowed (entry).”

While Mr Bloodworth said that the problem of overcrowding can be managed by having a “guest limit” where each member signs in a maximum number of guests at one time, Ms Phua said that this may not be feasible, because there may be instances where a member wishes to hold a private function for more than a handful of guests.


It has been a not-often-spoken but longstanding practice that social clubs bar domestic workers from entering their premises.

In 2001, the Telegraph in the United Kingdom reported that a woman who dined with her Sri Lankan helper at the SCC was banned for life by its members.

Other clubs in Singapore, such as The Tanglin Club, also have such similar rules.

It is the same at The British Club, except that domestic workers are allowed in when attending a function organised by the club for them. Its spokesperson explained that the bylaws are in place for reasons related to the possibility of overcrowding.

“The club experiences peak periods and having this bylaw in place helps alleviate compaction problems — we simply do not have the space, seating capacity or facilities to accommodate domestic staff.”

The spokesperson added that club members are regularly surveyed on this bylaw, and “an overwhelming majority support the policy”. The British Club’s membership base comprises 51 nationalities including Singaporeans.

The Hollandse Club's bylaws state that domestic workers are allowed on its premises only in certain cases, for example, if they are attending classes specifically organised for them at the club, or if members are unable to accompany their children who are at least three years old and are taking part in classes at the club on weekdays.

However, some other clubs such as the SRC and The China Club Singapore have no such strict policies.

SRC’s general manager Shareef Jaffar said: “SRC’s rules allow members to bring their maids and caregivers to the club for dining purposes. They must be accompanied by the member at all times.”

Mr Jaffar added: “As a family-oriented club, we appreciate and understand the crucial role played by maids and caregivers in ensuring the comfort and care of our members as they patronise the club.”



Dr Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist from the National University of Singapore, noted that people are increasingly expressing “unhappiness and anger towards incidents of unjustifiable discrimination and negative prejudices” and it is a healthy sign.

He said: “I think it is justifiable to be unhappy when people are treated unfairly, unkindly, or without respect.

“A maid may be excluded from a private club, but only because she is not a member. However, if her employer wants to invite her as a guest, then the club should allow her in.”

He added: “Whenever a policy involves making a decision on who may or may not be included, it could be deemed to be discriminatory, but not all forms of discrimination are necessarily unjustifiable, for instance, admission to a professional body.

“I don’t think I want to comment on specific private clubs, but I would argue that in general, if discrimination is based on achieved status, such as educational attainment or meeting sales targets, rather than on ascribed status, like skin colour, then it can be justifiable.”

Mr Gabriel Seah, a financial analyst in his 30s, said that the clubs can better communicate the rationale of having bylaws against certain groups of individuals.

While he is not a member of any club, Mr Seah believes that if the policies are outdated, they could be relooked. “The language in which the bylaws were written do sound archaic and old, like they were written long ago,” he said.

“If clubs are ultimately concerned about the possibility of overcrowding, or the possibility of the misuse of facilities, such clubs could state in detail their rationale, instead of having a blanket ban against domestic helpers and chauffeurs.”




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