Thursday, November 26, 2009


Some days the Straits Times Forum is like a can of Pringles: once you pop, you can't stop.

The contribution from the lovely Marcus Foo was accompanied by not one, not two, but three letters about those most browbeaten, abused, exploited, voiceless members of Singaporean society... yes, I'm talking about the employers of migrant domestic workers (MDWs).

My favourite is this heart-rending vignette from one Madam Patricia Koh. Cue the violins, folks:
Recently, I hired a Filipino maid. After two months, a relative saw her going out without our permission when we were all at work. When questioned, she gave the excuse of running some errands. Later, neighbours told us they had seen her behaving intimately with a foreign worker a couple of times. We also found a list of men's names and contact numbers in her purse. We sent the maid back to the agency immediately. To our dismay, in less than three days, the agency found her a new employer. The new employer had accepted her without knowing her background. I am angry with the maid agency and worried for the new employer. Is there a government channel for employers to share particulars of undesirable maids so other employers can be forewarned?
What I learned from this letter was that I have completely misunderstood the entire institution that is the 'maid' industry. All this while, I thought that MDWs were hired in order to clean and cook, tend to children and pets and the elderly perhaps, maybe even in some cases help with household errands like shopping.

It appears that I have been poorly served by my Magical brain. In fact, I understand from Madam Koh, MDWs are hired in order that they may be rigidly confined to one building at all hours; to be kept from associating with or - horrors - collecting the contact details of any other human beings, particularly men; and to avoid any acts of personal intimacy with any other persons whatsoever. Moreover, should a worker fail in any of these duties to one employer, it is inconceivable that another employer might be happy to simply accept her as a cook, cleaner or carer.

MDWs are, in fact, hired to be inert temples of chastity, and once they have failed to perform this function to the satisfaction of one person, they should find no employ anywhere else.

Prior to the publication of this enlightening letter the Magical Chicken had naively believed that the abuse of MDWs might be a side effect of the position of dependence in which they find themselves while employed to be cooks, cleaners and carers. Madam Patricia Koh makes it clear, however, that abuse, dehumanisation and indeed slavery are not accidental defects of the practice of hiring MDWs. They are, for people like her, the whole point.

1 comment:

  1. I blame the politicians and the bureaucrats in countries such as Philippines and Indonesia for screwing up the life of their average countrywomen to such an extent that they are willing to work under such horrendous conditions. Somehow those bastards always manage to escape the blame when blame is being apportioned.


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