The Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), or AEAS, yesterday refuted claims made in a recent Al Jazeera post that maid agencies here are placing foreign domestic workers (FDWs) “on display” at shopping malls and treating them as “commodities”.
Responding to media queries, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesman stated it had seen employment agencies in both shopping centres mentioned in the report — Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and Katong Shopping Centre — and failed to find any improper displays of FDWs.
In the report of Al Jazeera published last Friday, it was said the agencies in the malls “display women at work” and that the FDWs “sit beneath garish signs and posters, testifying to their friendliness and industriousness, or advertising ‘super promo’ rates and ‘special discounts'”.
Rosalinda Baldoz, the Philippine Labour Secretary yesterday said that the Philippine Overseas Labour Office had taken actions against two employment agencies. It suspended the endorsement of Homekeeper Agency — stopping it from recruiting FDWs from the Philippines — for participating in “the so-called ‘discount on maids’ marketing strategy” and referred Budget Maid Agency to the MOM as it was never endorsed to recruit FDWs from the country.
The labour attache, Vicente Cabe of the Philippine Embassy stated that because investigations are being conducted, the temporary suspension was imposed.
Mr. Cabe had formerly disclosed that he had visited Bukit Timah Shopping Centre and found that the Al Jazeera article “does not seem to have basis”.
He reiterated that they did not see what was reported in the mall. They only saw the applicants sitting inside the office. Some agencies had ads saying they just charge this much for the service fees.
He further stated that Homekeeper and Budget Maid were not found to have committed any offense yet. However, the embassy has requested the MOM to investigate further, he disclosed.
Yesterday, the embassy met with four employment agencies and AEAS representatives, and Homekeeper also was in attendance.
The MOM representative observed that as some services have training facilities within their front offices, it is not extreme for FDWs to be performing such chores in the employment agency’s premises.
AEAS president, K. Jayaprema stated that there are several agencies that use the office premises to train the girls. It would not, however, be alright to have candidates sit around lazing and chattering – you might as well do some training.
She said the FDWs are at the agencies’ offices to await the companies to pick up them or for interviews from would-be companies.
On the claim the agencies were giving discounts on FDWs, she noticed that an ad was shown by the photo accompanying the Al Jazeera post for a discount on the service fees of the agency — and not on the professional services of the domestic workers. Ms. Jayaprema said that any business is entitled to give a discount.
She affirmed that it was a defective post and they have done their visits to the malls and they did not believe there was any breach.
However, Ms. Jayaprema proposed that training and waiting spaces should be moved to the rear of the offices to prevent such misunderstanding and phrase their ads more clearly.
The ASEAS is pleading on behalf of Homekeeper to the Philippine Embassy. In addition, it expects the suspension will soon be lifted very soon.
Budget Maid could not be contacted for comment.
Homekeeper managing director Carene Chin said the Philippine Embassy has been contacted by the agency and supplied evidence to show the claims were untrue.
She added the agency was considering its legal options.
The claims are unfounded, Ms. Chin said. “It’s an incredibly reckless post, (the writer) has not done his research well. Only … jumping to conclusions.”
Al Jazeera failed to reply to queries by press time.
The MOM representative emphasized that improper display of FDWs at the assumptions of employment agencies or marketing them as being “available for hire at low-cost or discounted costs” were improper practices.
The representative said that MOM proactively audits Singapore employment agencies and people discovered to have behaved in a way harmful to the interest of the FDWs will probably be dealt with in compliance with all the Employment Agencies Act.