Overseas Workers

Feb 24th, 2007, in News, Opinion, by

Hope For the Helpless? Overseas Workers Ordeals, by Ross.

Jumhur Hidayat has been appointed to take charge of the new National Agency for the Placement and Protection of Overseas Labour. There are estimated to be almost 3 million Indonesians working overseas, the majority probably women employed as domestic servants. One might think that president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should appoint somebody to look after the domestic maids in Indonesia itself, who are often treated disgracefully, but let's look on the bright side.

Jumhur Hidayat
Jumhur Hidayat.

Mr. H. is going to be a busy man, if my own experience in Singapore reflects the reality of the problems faced by these mostly young lasses who seek their fortunes abroad. We went over there to see someone we knew who had been sending letters indicating all was not well with her situation working in Singapore. Rather than confront her nasty employer directly, which might only worsen the girl's plight, we decided to approach the agent in Singapore who had arranged the placement. I fictionalized the meeting of minds in my novel, Maid In Singapore, and the following is an account of "Craig" and "Anita" visiting the maid's agent.


The next day's visit to the office of Mrs. Serena, the agent, was far from serene. At first, she had greeted them warmly, imagining that this couple were in search of a serf. When Anita made clear their purpose, everything changed at once. An avalanche of words poured over every attempt on Anita's part to explain her sister's problem. Serena was a dumpy, sour-faced Chinese. After five minutes of futile wrangling, she slapped a sheet of paper and a ball-point pen down on the desk.

Put it in writing that you will pay me four hundred dollars. Then I will send her back within a week.

The mouth was twisted in a cynical grin, the voice low so as not to alert others in the office that difficult questions were being asked.

Anita moved to pick up the paper, but Craig, who had kept his vow of silence long enough, slapped it back down.

Don't even think about it. What do you call this kind of work?

he snapped across at the hard-faced female, who was staring at him with open hatred in her eyes.

We are a job agency, as you can see.

I thought the slave trade had been outlawed a hundred years ago.

Don't bring your Western human rights sensitivities into this part of the world. You don't understand Asia. This is Singapore, not San Francisco.

Actually, I like Singapore, and most of the people I've met here. I got married here. Singapore or San Francisco, who cares? I don't see any difference between human beings in Asia or Australia or Europe or Darkest Africa. Respect is not too much to ask, in any country or continent. That was the first day off she'd had. And not even a day...

They get a day off every week once they've been here for a year. That is why we use Indonesians, not Filipinos or Vietnamese. Those girls are greedy, won't work seven days.

You mean to tell me...?

But there was no stopping the wrathful indignation that flowed freely from the woman's pursed lips.

If they have a free day, they just go off and get lost. It's in their own best interests, for they don't speak English or Chinese. Trust me.

They don't need to go out at all, in that case. A rest-day in their room, is that too much to ask?

Serena had no answer. She stood up and hurried over to attend to a customer who'd been showing too much interest in the increasingly heated exchanges. When she came back, she affected surprise that they were still there. Anita made a final effort to engage the vixen in rational discussion.

We don't want you to lose money...

Then don't interfere in my business.

Okay, maybe we should get the Straits Times to take an interest. Or the cops.

Craig was no longer bothering to conceal his loathing for the obnoxious old bat.

Serena laughed, a strained noise that sounded like a rusty key turning in a pad-lock.

You do that. You are not back in San Francisco now.

Craig had never been in San Francisco but saw no point in telling her that. In fact, he saw no point in continuing this dialogue with the deaf.

C'mon, honey, we can do more for Siti some other place.

Yes, bye-bye, you go there, you do that.

Serena's strident farewell cackling echoed after them as they strode across the ground floor of the large office-block.

Indonesian Maid in Singapore
Indonesian Maid in Singapore.


Alas, in real life, the story has no very happy ending. If I had imagined our attention might alleviate the cruelties, I was wrong. The insults and deprivation continued. As it turned out, the victim took sick and got home. After some serious discussion in Singapore, those concerned deemed it not worth the trouble of transferring her to work as a prostitute in Riau province. The girl had no stomach for pursuing justice against the monstrous ill-treatment she'd suffered, so there was no way we could take it further. No evidence, only our own eyes and ears.

Ross McKay.


2 Comments on “Overseas Workers”

  1. avatar Dragonwall says:

    I guess the placement agent is one of those exceptional case placing Maid in Singapore.

    Singapore does have one of the most stringent adherence as to foreign workers with insurance policy and bonds set upon the employer.

    Belief you me there are numerous agents you could get their list by approaching the MOL just opposite the subordinate Court in Havelock Road. Some agents are like crroks that acted sometime pampered, sometime over zealous, but in general majority are still okay. There are also (a) the nasty employer (b) naive employee. I would say 1 out of 10 overworked. But on the other hand 5 out of 10 employee use to scive.

    My experience displacing workers to Taiwan, Hongkong, Singapore as and International HR head hunter tells of my encounters by the tens of thousands of employment seekers from Phillipines POEA, Indonesian Depnaker and Singapore MOL. I would say 75% of them a genuinely earnest workers with 15% possess the reluctant attitude and 10 % with other intention (meaning trying to find someone to rely on-like marriage,) (fraternize with fellow workers of the opposite sex-escapade, or stealing from employers).

    I do hope you could get that resolve in a more subtle approach through government channel and in that way their licence will be revoked and be fined up to SGD10,000.

    Good luck.

  2. avatar shandy nawi says:

    i only want to request for h elp to my sister work in sau di arabia.please help her to get out from the employer,s house couse they are threat my sister so cruely,from slap ing,kicking etc.i don,t want my sister b,come like sumiati so with this forum i bag your simpatic to help my sister.th anks so much before.

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