Fifteen maids fall to death in 2003

Alexa Olesen in Singapore
22 July 2003

Fifteen Indonesian maids have fallen to their deaths from their employers’ high-rise apartments in Singapore this year, the Indonesian Embassy said today.

Kartika Prawati, an embassy official, said most of the deaths were still under investigation, but were largely believed to be the result of inadequate training. Some of the deaths apparently occurred while maids were hanging laundry or washing windows.

She could not say how many were suicides.

“It’s mostly (due to) lack of training,” Kartika said. “We have to improve the training they receive before they come to Singapore.”

Hundreds of thousands of women from across Asia flock to wealthy Singapore to escape poverty through maid work and are often unaccustomed to city life.

Prawati said that among the 15 deaths, two were on the same day last month. Yuni Ekaning Thas, 19, and Aftutik Kasmanan, 18, both died on June 25 after falling from their employers’ high-rise apartments.

In March, Sanginah Sangsuardi, 21, died after falling 16 stories from her employer’s kitchen window – apparently while putting clothes out to dry.

Critics say the government fails to provide adequate safety training, and Sangsuardi’s death prompted it to issue maid agencies and employers a guidebook on dos and don’ts for maids, including safety tips on working in a high-rise apartment.

This month, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower issued a new alert to employers, reminding them to protect their maids, and notifying them of a new law which requires employers to report a maid’s death within 12 hours, the Straits Times newspaper reported today.

“We would like to remind employers that they have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that their maids work safely in their homes … especially if their household duties involve cleaning windows or hanging out clothes to dry in a high-rise apartment,” the paper quoted the ministry as saying in the notice to employers.

According to government figures, a significant number of the maid deaths from falls are suicides, fuelling concern that many are poorly treated by their employers.

The manpower ministry has said that 36 maids fell to their deaths here between 1999 and 2001. Some fell while washing windows, and 10 cases were labelled suicides, the ministry said in March.

Maids often wind up overworked and with no personal freedom. Employers are encouraged to keep their passports so they cannot run away. Most maids get no days off and are prohibited from leaving their employers’ home.

The Indonesian Embassy estimated that in the past 4 1/2 years, 89 Indonesian domestic workers had died here, mostly from accidents in the workplace, Prawati said.

The ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.