Singapore creates new rules for easier transfer of domestic helpers amid COVID-19 pandemic


Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has announced new rules for the easier transfer of domestic helpers to other households, amid the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting Wednesday (May 20), employment agencies will be able to help employers cancel a foreign domestic worker’s work permit even if she does not have a new employer.

The agent will then be responsible for providing accommodation, food and medical insurance for the worker.

This comes as worldwide travel restrictions have led to limited numbers of foreign domestic workers coming into Singapore.

A 14-day Special Pass will be issued to the worker when her work permit is cancelled. The agency will bear the cost of repatriating the worker if a new employer is not found before the Special Pass expires.

Currently, the former employer must pay for the worker’s living costs during the transition period even if she has already returned to the agency, and provide a letter of consent for the new work permit application.

The former employer must also pay for the worker’s trip home if her work permit is cancelled and she is not moving on to a new employer.

Employment agencies that want to take over responsibilities for foreign domestic workers during the 14-day transition period should register their interest with the Manpower Ministry by May 31, and the list of participating agencies will be available online.

Ms. K Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies (AEAS) said: “We do not understand the objective of this policy, especially at this juncture. Even if you look at the current situation, employers do transfer domestic workers through employment agencies. There are existing agreements between employers and agencies … it is something that is ongoing.”

AEAS represents about 300 employment agencies, which in turn deploy more than 75% of domestic workers in Singapore.

“It looks like there’s no consideration that is being given to the interests or the thoughts of the domestic worker herself,” said Ms. Jayaprema, noting that domestic workers might not have a say in whether they would like to be transferred to another employer.

“It looks like it’s a deal that is being made between the employer and the agencies. It is all being monetised, and whoever can bear the costs makes that decision about transferring the domestic worker.”

Ms. Jayaprema also said that the 14-day transition period was “very short”, noting that most existing service agreements between employment agencies and employers provide for a 21-day transition period and a 7-day extension where applicable.

The cost of hiring a domestic worker may also go up due to the additional costs incurred by the employment agencies, said Ms. Jayaprema. (Source: CNA)