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MOM bans ‘inappropriate display’ of maids by agencies

SINGAPORE — Two weeks after it said it found no inappropriate displays of maids by maid agencies at two shopping malls here, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has moved to ban certain “unacceptable practices” — including the “insensitive advertising and inappropriate display” of maids by agencies.

MOM bans ‘inappropriate display’ of maids by agencies

A maid agency at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre yesterday. The MOM said at the time it visited maid agencies in the shopping centres mentioned in the report but did not find any inappropriate displays of maids. Photo: Wee Teck Hian

SINGAPORE — Two weeks after it said it found no inappropriate displays of maids by maid agencies at two shopping malls here, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has moved to ban certain “unacceptable practices” — including the “insensitive advertising and inappropriate display” of maids by agencies.

Spelling out the rules in an advisory sent out to agencies yesterday, the ministry said all advertising collaterals should “accord foreign domestic workers (FDWs) basic respect and human dignity”.

For example, agencies should refrain from public advertising — such as on shop fronts and websites — that mentions fees or likens maids to merchandise that can be purchased and replaced when found to be unsatisfactory. Maids should not sit outside agency premises, which gives the impression that they are “commodities” to be “tested or traded”.

If agencies do not cease such “unacceptable practices” with immediate effect, they could be given demerit points. Recalcitrant firms could have their licences suspended or revoked.

The move by the MOM comes after an Al Jazeera report late last month on the treatment of maids in Singapore, which described how they were put “on display” at shopping malls and treated like “commodities” — an accusation maid agencies vehemently denied then.

The MOM also said at the time it visited maid agencies in the shopping centres mentioned in the report — Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Katong Shopping Centre — but did not find any inappropriate displays of maids.

When contacted yesterday, Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) (AEAS) president K Jayaprema said she welcomed the MOM advisory. “With this advisory, there is now 100 per cent clarity that every agency has to correct itself. This will also send a strong message worldwide,” she said.

While she felt the Al Jazeera report was exaggerated, she added that some agencies engaging in inappropriate practices may have escaped notice.

“Maybe those (agencies) the MOM visited might not have been those mentioned in the (Al Jazeera) article,” she said.

Ms Jayaprema also said in addition to giving regular feedback on agencies to the MOM, the AEAS has written to the ministry to push for more control over placement fees, which are usually taken out of maids’ salaries.

Maid agencies TODAY spoke to said they would comply with the advisory, but some noted challenges.

Ok Maid Agency manager Michelle He said as “Singapore’s market is very small, customers always want cheap prices first before good service, which leads agencies to lower prices to be seen as a strong competitor”.

“It would be better if we could occasionally put promotions or discounts on our advertisements, stating when the promotion will start and run till, without stating the fees. Businesses still need to market themselves after all,” she said.

SunShine Employment Services’ manager, Ms Rina, however, said such advertisements are “frankly part of a gimmick to attract employers and is not a proper way to do business”.

FC Maid Agency owner Edmund Soon said the service an agency provides as well as its reputation is more important than prices.

He added: “It’s one thing to display maids in the agencies — it’s another thing to parade them outside the premises. This will affect the maids’ performance and make them feel like slaves.”

United Channel Employment Agency director Kerrie Tan said that the agency trains their maids on basic household chores and gives English classes in a training area located beside their sales office.

The agency “does not display any maids in front of glass windows”, and maids are advised not to loiter outside their premises, she added.

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