Singapore’s 200,000 domestic workers have given up their lives at home to work for a better future for their families. The life they live abroad is not an easy one; these are just some of the ways that a helper’s life is harder than you think:
1. They leave their own families behind.
Domestic workers leave their families behind, often for years, in the hope of providing a better future for them. Many can only afford a few trips home over the course of their employment, and they miss much of the joy of motherhood and spending time with their families while they work abroad.
2. They don’t know how long they’ll have to stay.
Financial planning can be difficult — almost impossible — for domestic workers. Helpers often travel abroad with the intention of staying only a for few years, but many end up staying for decades. This is often because:
3. They find it difficult to save to achieve their goals.
Helpers send money home to their families every month, but have almost no means of seeing how it is used. If families at home are unable to or choose not to save, helpers can be trapped into staying abroad for longer, or they may never achieve what they set out to.
4. They are in debt, at crippling rates.
In Singapore, a third of domestic workers are in debt, at interest rates averaging as high as 25%. Such high rates mean that a single mistake or unfortunate event can doom a helper to spiralling debt, often leading to them losing all they have, including their job and visa. The problem is even worse in Hong Kong, where over 80% of domestic workers are in debt.
5. They are almost entirely reliant on cash.
Helpers rely on cash both for their work and for their personal affairs. Many have to keep track of cash given to them for employer expenses such as groceries and laundry, and are expected to meticulously keep change and receipts. Most helpers also still rely on cash payment for their salaries, making it cumbersome and expensive for them to send their earnings home to their families.
So What’s Next?
Why are these widespread issues so rarely brought up? It’s time for honest conversations about how we can alleviate helpers’ everyday burdens, and help make their sacrifices more worthwhile.