A Day Off Is A Good Start For Domestic Workers

One in five households in Singapore employs a low-wage domestic worker, but widespread perceptions of what constitutes acceptable working conditions are in desperate need of change. Statistics indicate that 40% of Singapore’s 225,000 migrant workers are not permitted a weekly day off, despite this being their legal right. Many will forgo their rest day for the promise of payment in-lieu, but the time itself is just as valuable as money. Without a rest day, foreign domestic workers run the risk of straining their physical and mental health.

In the run up to International Worker’s Day, or Labour Day, on May 1, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving conditions for low-wage migrant workers, has partnered with Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) to launch a film and behavior change campaign.

“The West sees domestic workers as a luxury, but in many cases in Asia and the emerging world, hiring domestic help is the only solution that allows both parents to work outside the home to support their families,” says Eugene Cheong, CCO at Ogilvy & Mather Asia-Pacific. A new video campaign, entitled ‘Mums & Maids’, aims to encourage more households to honour their obligation to grant workers a day off.

The central concept is that a weekly day off is of mutual benefit to both employer and employee, as it allows parents to enjoy quality time with their children. “The film is deliberately confronting because we need to be effective,” says Cheong. “It must actually change behaviour. So we focused the creative strategy on tapping into modern parents’ fears. By demonstrating how they are missing out on their relationship with their children by always requiring their domestic worker to be around, we reposition their day off as an opportunity to enhance family bonding.”

The video is a step towards addressing the problem of how foreign domestic workers are treated in emerging countries. According to the charity SOS Children, there are over 53 million domestic workers globally, at least a quarter of whom have no labour rights: “The fundamental problem is that they are dehumanised because society often sees little worth in the work that they do. Despite being essential to the economy, domestic workers are continuously undervalued. With such little regard for their position, it’s no wonder that they are unfairly targeted for maltreatment.”

There are far too many stories in the news of wealthy households taking advantage of foreign domestic workers, from the three Filipina women who eventually fled their workplace in Kuwait in fear for their lives, to the Hong Kong employer who was recently sentenced to six years in prison after being found guilty of 18 counts of abuse against her Indonesian domestic helper. In addition to being subjected to physical violence, the victim never received a paycheque for the duration of her employment, and was forced to live with her employer where she was deprived of sleep and food. In other words, she was kept as a slave.

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