S’pore a ‘killing field’ for Indonesian workers

The Jakarta Post
16 May 2005

While many Indonesian businessmen wanted for graft find refuge in Singapore, the city state is a place of grief for some Indonesian migrant workers, a study says.

The study, which was conducted recently by the Institute for Ecosoc Rights both in Indonesia and Singapore, was inspired by repeated deaths of Indonesian migrant domestic workers in the neighboring country over the last five years.

The institute said that the high mortality rate had a lot to do with poor working conditions.

“Many workers bring home Singaporean dollars as capital to start small businesses, but many others return in coffins or are sent to jail for acts against their employers,” the institute says.

From 1999 through December 2004, a total of 114 Indonesian domestic workers in Singapore died for various reasons.

There are almost 70,000 registered Indonesian migrants workers in the neighboring country, 53 percent of whom are domestic helpers, mostly women.

“For big-time Indonesian criminals, Singapore is a safe place to hide since the two countries have not signed an extradition treaty. But for many Indonesian domestic workers who live in poverty at home, the city state is like a killing field as they are not only overexploited but physically abused and trapped in forced labor,” Sri Palupi, who coordinated the study, said over the weekend.

While Singapore restricts the entry of immigrants, Palupi said the country had failed to set minimum base standards for the employment of domestic workers, most of whom are not protected by Singaporean law due to their working in the informal, or household, sector.

The study was conducted between January and April this year in Singapore and in the regencies of Tulangbawang (Lampung), Cilacap (Central Java), Banyumas (Central Java) and Jember (East Java). It involved 120 former domestic workers employed in Singapore and 80 migrant workers who found themselves in trouble in Singapore as respondents.

Palupi said the study found the migrants were burdened by long working hours, heavy workloads and a lack of time off.

“Most respondents said they worked between 12 hours and 20 hours a day, and had no day off. They mostly do washing, cooking, baby-sitting and taking care of the elderly,” she said.

Some respondents said they received inadequate meals and slept only around five hours a day.

They complained about living in their employers’ small flats. This lead to physical abuse by their employers. Many workers were also dismissed without payment, Palupi said.

She added that the researchers were skeptical about reports that some Indonesian migrant workers died of serious illnesses or committed suicide, because they had undergone medical checks before departure and were not familiar with a suicidal culture.

The study also found that some domestic workers found themselves trapped in the equivalent of forced labor as their monthly salaries were cut for the first seven months of their employment to pay recruitment fees to their sponsors, and the fact that they were not allowed to go out or to make contact with outsiders, including relatives and the Indonesian Embassy.

Separately, Wahyu Susilo, coordinator of the Migrant Care organization in Jakarta, likened the employment of Indonesian domestic workers to slavery, and placed the blame for this squarely on the Indonesian government.

“This slavery continues as the government lacks a strong bargaining position vis-a-vis foreign countries to make them protect our migrant workers. We cannot expect the workers themselves to be able to protect and defend themselves as they are uneducated, unskilled and lack the ability to adjust,” he said.

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