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HOME’s response to Say No to Cartels Fixing of salaries is unlawful and Maids employment terms confused with employment practices

Dear Sir,

I refer to the letter ‘Say No to Cartels.’, ‘Fixing of salaries is unlawful’, and Maids’ employment terms confused with employment practices’.

Mr Zhan is right to say that free market distortions occur in every employment sector. However, the examples of market distortions that he cites in his letter do not relate to workers’ wages, and the unequally low wages of migrant domestic workers is the crux of the issue. Similarly, Mr Tan in his letter says that we are confusing a domestic worker’s employment terms with the employment agencies’ business practices. But in this particular case, the two issues should not be considered in isolation because of the inadequacy of our laws and policies in providing them with basic labour protections. Unlike all other workers in the formal sector, domestic workers in Singapore do not have the right to form unions to bargain for better pay.

Setting a benchmark for wages is practiced in many countries around the world, where there are mandatory minimum wage standards and unions to bargain for better wages. The underlying rationale for such a practice is that persons should be guaranteed fair and reasonable remuneration for their labour. Unfortunately, this is not the case for domestic workers here.  If the CCS was prosecuting the employment agencies for colluding to raise the placement fees charged to employers and domestic workers, its decision may be justified. But in this case the prosecution is based on their attempts to increase their wages.

Further, in supporting the CCS’ decision by citing the need for a level playing field for consumers, we should not forget that domestic workers are ‘consumers’ too who stand to benefit from the wage increase.

The CCS should focus its attention on the price fixing of actual goods and services, and not the wages of vulnerable workers who are in greater need of protection of their basic labour rights. It has reduced the value of workers’ wages by defining them as ‘prices’ that have been ‘fixed’ for the market, and in the process commodified their labour. As long as we continue to view migrant workers as economic units only, their working conditions will see little improvement and they will continue to be exploited and discriminated against.

Jolovan Wham (范国瀚)

Executive Director
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) 情义之家