Written By Prof Mohan J. Dutta and Satveer Kaur
CARE will be launching our first campaign created by foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore, “Respect Our Rights”, to raise awareness among Singaporeans about the rights of FDWs in Singapore. This campaign is part of a larger effort aimed at curbing human trafficking and addressing specific issues pertaining to the exploitation of FDWs in Singapore. Member of Parliament, Christopher de Souza, has drafted a bill for Parliament this October to tighten human trafficking laws in Singapore. CARE research, driven by the voices of the domestic workers, along with other groups such as the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), seeks to create a discursive space for the discussion of a victim-centered approach in the execution of this bill, where victims are entitled to receive far more protection than they currently do. Protection includes having access to shelter and food, legal aid, medical aid, and other basic resources in order to alleviate their trafficked conditions. More information on the victim-centered approach to human trafficking can be found at HOME’s website. Our ethnographic research with FDWs in Singapore who have been sheltered at HOME suggests the need for addressing health rights as integral to the lived experiences of FDWs. In our culture-centered project emphasizing listening to the voices of FDWs, we hear voices of FDWs suggesting the importance of having access to fresh food and water every day, seeing a doctor promptly when they are ill, receiving their salary from their employer on time every month, having adequate sleep, not being overworked and abused physically, sexually or verbally as integral to addressing their physical and mental health. These key provisions are stipulated in their employment contract but are frequently flouted by errant employers.
FDWs enjoying their entitled day-off at Orchard Road (Images by Julio Etchart)[/caption] The concept of the cultured-centered approach inverts the research process by centering FDWs at the center of decision-making. Our roles as researchers for the FDWs are guided by the problem configurations and solution frameworks developed by the FDWs. As an exemplar of the CCA process, the “Respect our Rights” campaign is aimed at communicating specific messages about respecting the basic rights of FDWs to all employers of FDWs in Singapore. The campaign will be launched in the form of television advertisements on Starhub’s cable platforms, bus stop advertisements, newspaper advertisements on The Straits Times, and online platforms where our documentary film will be aired. All media materials for the campaign were conceptualized and designed collaboratively by the FDWs and CARE, and are aimed at raising awareness on the common issues faced by FDWs. Embedded is a teaser trailer on the upcoming campaign launch on 21 October 2014.
Addressing the issue of migrant worker rights is crucial, especially in a burgeoning first-world economy like Singapore where numerous transient workers make up a critical mass of economic support for the country. In just the first quarter of 2014 alone, HOME received 405 distressed calls from domestic workers on a myriad of issues, with 159 of them reporting verbal abuse.
CARE has been working closely with HOME on fostering spaces for FDWs to share their stories, and collaborate on problem identification and solution development on the basis of these stories. HOME houses domestic workers that have fled their employer’s place of residence for reasons such as abuse and exploitation. CARE has conducted almost 50 interviews, 3 focus groups and 11 advisory board meetings with FDWs to garner a deeper and meaningful assessment of the structural and agentic constraints they face when engaging in domestic work in Singaporean homes. To gain a greater insight on these issues, visit our campaign website and/or our Facebook page. More updates on our campaign launch coming up soon!