I received this video in my email, another maid abuse child case in Singapore.
Like many net viewers, I was outraged by the video. What the maid did was extremely cruel and nothing can be said and argue to condone such act. Inflicting pain and causing harm to an innocent child who is powerless. Maybe this will prompt more working parents to set up spy cams, maybe the government will come out with more stringent laws to deter such act, yet, are these enough ? Are there more fundamental issues here ?
In the US and France, live in domestic workers are extremely rare and are only affordable by the uber rich. In fact, we have never seen one despite having lived in both countries for a number of years. I think the main reason is that in both France and the US, foreign labour enjoys the same labour rights as domestic workers. That means, foreign workers enjoy the same pay, and are protected by the same labour laws. An immigrant worker from Africa working in Paris therefore earns as much as a similar french worker. An immigrant Mexican working in LA technically earns as much as an American working in a similar job. Doubtlessly, human trafficking and exploitation of cheap labour still occur in both the US and Europe but it is at least illegal. Due to these laws, labour cost is charged at market rates and it would be extremely costly to employ a full time live in domestic worker. A friend with 4 kids in Paris paid more than 20,000 euros last year for a nanny who worked from 8 to 6 everyday except for weekends.
On the other hand, Singapore foreign domestic workers work abysmally long hours. They enjoy neither similar pay nor rights as Singapore workers. It is not uncommon to find them working more than 12 hours a day. For the first few months of their stay, they do not get any day off and most of their first year’s pay go to paying off their agencies. They are often placed under strict curfews and social restrictions by their employers who fear that the former would get themselves pregnant or run into some sort of trouble that would implicate them.
In short, most foreign domestic workers in Singapore are overworked, poorly paid and deprived, often unwittingly by their employers and the government, of some of their basic human rights : the right to equal treatment without discrimination; the right to socialise.
Before going further, I want to highlight the European and American context that have disallowed discrimination of foreign labour. In fact, the Europeans were one of the greatest perpertuators of cheap human labour: slavery. This sparked a civil war in America, which was fortunately won by those who wanted the abolition of slavery. Eventually, the rest of western civilization followed suit but the stigma remained. Any official policy that seemed to discriminate against foreign labour was frowned upon.
In Singapore, we have embraced foreign labour. Foreign live in domestic workers have allowed our people to work and enjoy luxuries at a price that most foreigners could not even dream of attaining in their countries today. Their cost to a typical household is approximately S$1000 a month, or about S$12000 a year, a miniscule amount compared to my friend’s 20,000 euros (~S$40,000) for a daytime weekday only nanny. No, we have not embraced foreign labour. We have as a matter of fact, in my opinion, embraced slavery in its modern form, the exploitation of people in countries worse off than ours.
It is easy to rebuke the slavery claim by saying that we are paying them and they would otherwise be worse off economically without these jobs. Yet, at the end of their stay here, how much do these foreign domestic workers really make and how much do their employment agencies make? And the main issue is not really about pay but about rights and freedom.
Do you know of anyone who overwork their maids?
Do you know of anyone who employ maids for work other than that authorized in their contracts?
Do you know of anyone who treat their maids as second class people?
Do you know of anyone who confine their maids indoor and control with whom they may socialize with?
And what about our children?
What are we teaching them when there is always Maria who will clean up after them?
What are we teaching them when Maria never join them at the dinner table but is only fed the leftover?
What are we teaching them when Maria has to work around the house from dawn till dusk while the rest laze in bed and curl on the couch?
Are we teaching them respect?
Are we teaching them responsibility?
Are we teaching them equality?
Are we teaching them independece?
Are we teaching them that one has less rights if one is poor?
I am obviously generalizing. I am sure that there are many employers out there that treat their maids humanely and with great gratitude. But my personal observations have shown me that many of them treat their maids less than what they are: an equal human being but who is forced by circumstances beyond their control to work in a country far away from their families.
Again, I do not condone crime and cruelty against children and it saddens me even more to see these videos. However, are we guilty too?