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I refer to the article ’16 maid employment agencies fined for price fixing.’ We disagree with the competition commission’s decision for the following reasons:
The Singapore government’s policy of excluding domestic workers from the Employment Act and leaving wages to be determined by the free market has led to low wages and poor working conditions. Their wages have seen little improvement over the years whereas the Philippines government has mandated a minimum wage of US$400 for its citizens going abroad. In Hong Kong, minimum wage laws mean domestic workers earn at least S$595 a month. They are also entitled to weekly days off, public holidays, annual leave and maternity leave.
The National Wages Council also excludes domestic workers in its annual wage recommendations and has ignored the calls of NGOs to include them in their annual deliberations. In the absence of minimum wage laws and trade unions to improve the wages of migrant domestic workers, the CCS should refrain from blocking reasonable attempts to improve their employment terms.
Moreover, the market for migrant domestic workers is distorted in the first place, such that their salaries are artificially depressed and their numbers in Singapore is artificially constricted. For example, the imposition of the Foreign Domestic Worker levy by the government has significantly interfered with the operation of the market. It has resulted in extra costs to the employer with no benefits to the worker as well. An initiative to increase the salaries of FDWs would go some way to remedying this.
In addition, the requirement for FDWs in Singapore to pass entry tests and meet other eligibility criteria has artificially erected barriers to entry, thereby restricting the number of FDWs who are willing and able to work in Singapore. As such, attempts by those in the industry to correct such market distortions are prima facie not anti-competitive and should be allowed.
In addition, the 16 employment agencies’ stated objective in discussing the monthly salary increase was to expand the market and attract more Indonesian domestic workers to Singapore, rather than to limit or control their numbers. There is evidence of prospective Indonesian FDWs preferring to work in Hong Kong and Taiwan instead of Singapore, precisely because of the depressed salaries and less conducive working conditions here.
We contend that the CCS’ decision is primarily driven by what is good for employers only. However, employers and foreign domestic workers are both paying clients of an employment agency and interests should not be disproportionately and unilaterally weighed towards the former.
Lastly, to subject domestic workers’ wages to the same treatment as goods and other services is to suggest that persons are to be treated and valued like commodities. Welfare and wages for domestic workers, like any other employee in a work place should not be viewed in the same manner as one would assess the trade in coffee, gold or oil.
Jolovan Wham (范国瀚）
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) 情义之家