I grew up in a middle-lower income family. My dad was our main source of income and my mum was a seamstress who did some sewing at home to supplement our family income. Besides that, she spent most of her time at home maintaining the house. She did everything herself, from cleaning, cooking, looking after us, to even all sorts of handy work that I would just hire professionals to do these days.
The concept of having a domestic helper was totally foreign to me. (Pun Intended) In fact, I do not remember any of my peers had a foreign helper at home back in the day.
Fast forward some 30 years to today, we actually have some 200,000 foreign domestic employees in Singapore.
“I don’t think I can have a child without my (domestic) helper.” – Michael*, 37 years old, Regional Retail Manager.
I am just as guilty to be honest. These days, it is common to have both husband and wife working in a household, and the duty of maintaining the house as well as looking after the kids usually falls on the helper.
The helpers, aka domestic employees, spend most of their time in our homes, helping us with chores that we have no time or no wish to do. They sound like just an extra pair of hands and legs, but is that all they are to us? I am not sure about others, but my domestic helper sure feels more like a part of our family than anything else. She’s not just an extra pair of hands. Not only does she help out with the family because it is her job but also because she really cares for us.
However, if you do a quick search online, you will be able to easily find news on domestic employee abuse cases. Not to forget, those that appeared on our searches are simply just those that are reported, what about those that went unreported? What about “casual abuse” cases where they are being mistreated in smaller unfair manner? Why are we treating domestic employees this way?
I ask myself this one time too often.
We are supposedly a first world country with a highly educated population. How can this be happening? What have these domestic employees done to warrant such abuse and treatment? They have left their countries and families behind to seek better lives and to earn some honest money. How would you feel if your employer abuses you simply because you are working overseas or in a job that is deemed lesser or even “lowly” by their employers? That doesn’t feel too good, right? So why are some employers doing that to their helpers?
One can do more than wonder; one can also be part of the solution.
For May Day, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has traditionally held a series of activities to celebrate May Day with different groups of workers. Every year, the labour movement will also organise May Day activities for the foreign workers here, including migrant workers and domestic emplpyees.
For this year, NTUC also took the opportunity to involve our younger generation in showing their appreciation to our domestic employees for their hard work and contribution.
Leading up to this year’s May Day celebrations for domestic employees, NTUC’s Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) partnered NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool (MFS) centres to do something special for our domestic employees. From 29 April 2019, a month-long campaign was launched across all 142 MFS centres island-wide for preschoolers to work on various Thank-You activities for our domestic employees.
Some 11,000 preschoolers were involved, and they showed their appreciation for domestic employees through various activities, including performances, hand-written messages of appreciation and handicrafts.
In all of the 142 MFS centres, these messages and handicrafts were sculpted together to form the foliage for the Trees of Gratitude. As more of these messages were completed and put up, these Trees of Gratitude “grew” through the effort of these young children. The centres also arranged for some of the handicrafts to be presented to the domestic employees by the preschoolers and their parents.
This campaign was effectively teaching the kids about appreciating their helpers at home, and also served as a reminder to parents to be more aware of their actions when handling situations at home that involves their domestic employees. The importance of being good role models at home cannot be overlooked.
The main highlight for this year was a May Day Celebration for the domestic employers at Wild Wild Wet on 16 June 2019. The event saw 2,000 helpers enjoying a day out at the water park, with water rides, carnival game booths, mass workout and water tele-matches. And of course, some of the preschoolers where there with their “aunties” too!
I was fortunate that I had the chance to join them at this celebration. Everyone was having a great time like a big family, until the lucky draw segment of course. LOL.
I started writing this with a question in my head. I still do not have an answer on why people would abuse their helpers. Domestic employees are just workers like you and I. Why treat them badly or in a way that we ourselves do not wish to be treated?
Every worker matters.