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From runaway domestic worker to organiser in Singapore

Endless chores, verbal abuse, and physical confinement.

Care worker holding child. ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flicr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

My name is Lana (a pseudonym) and I am a Filipino domestic worker in Singapore, where I worked for four months without a single day off. My workday began at 5 a.m. and often didn't end until close to midnight. In addition to cleaning, cooking and washing, I had to take care of two young children.

Here is what my daily work routine looked like:

Morning
5.30am • Wake up and bathe
5.40–6.30am

• Put kitchenware and utensils back into respective cabinets

• Prepare children’s school bags with water bottles, milk bottles, milk powder, and handkerchiefs

• Place school bags on dining table and sir’s bag on dining chair

• Prepare sir’s water bottle, take out one packet of tissues

• Eat breakfast

• Discard newspaper from the previous day and collect new newspaper from door

• Dust floor if time allows

• Change children’s diapers and help them wear uniforms

6.50–7.25am

• Send children to school

7.30am–12.00pm

• Clean up bedrooms and do three-step cleaning (sweeping, dusting, mopping) for all rooms and living room

• Set up bathroom and master bedroom

• Wipe all children's toys

• Carry out any additional tasks

• Marinate meat for dinner (if meat is being served)

Afternoon
12.00pm

• Eat lunch

12.30–3.00pm

• Hand wash children, sir, and madam’s clothes

• Do laundry and continue cleaning up

3.00–5.00pm

• Prepare dinner

• Transfer all clothes from service yard to study room

• Cook dinner

5.00–5.30pm

• Mop kitchen floor

• Prepare bathroom for children’s bath

• Set table for dinner

• Set up high chairs, turn on TV, and close windows

• Make sure all electrical appliances in kitchen are off and that fridge door is closed

• Sweep and dust floor again

• Check children's room for insects

5.45pm

• Meet sir at bus stop (sir will call you for exact timing)

• Ensure door and gate are locked

Evening
6.15pm

• Bring children to room, let them drink water

6.30pm

• Clean up bathrooms after children’s baths

• Unpack school bags, remove school paper announcements and wash toys in bag

6.45pm

• Prepare dinner for children and feed them

7.00­–7.30pm

• Prepare dinner for sir and madam

• Mind the children while sir and madam are eating

• Prepare fruits for sir, madam, and children

8.30pm

• Prepare milk for the first child

8.40pm

• Eat dinner

9.00pm

• Prepare milk for the second child

9.00–11.30pm

• Place standby milk and hot flask in respective rooms

• Clean utensils, milk bottles, and sink

• Clean and wipe rice cooker parts

• Clean kitchen stove and table surfaces

• Sterilise milk bottles

• Soak soybeans and place meal for tomorrow in the fridge to thaw

• Dispose of rubbish and lock door and gate

• Mop kitchen floor and living room

• Wipe sofa and play mat

• Wipe toys (on Saturday nights and when kids are unwell)

• Shut window and door blinds

11.30pm

• Bathe and rest

One day, I had had enough of these never-ending chores and verbal abuse from my employers and I decided to run away. I went to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) for help. HOME provides a range of services, to migrant workers – including migrant domestic workers – such as language courses, cooking classes, shelters for migrant workers in distress, and legal services.

In Singapore, migrant workers have almost no legal rights and are not allowed to form workers organisations or alliances. HOME is run by a group of local members who try to provide services to these workers, but they are not supposed to organise them. The group is independent from the state and the staff often feels they are walking fine lines.

When I returned to the employer’s home to collect my belongings, he locked me up and refused to let me leave the house. He closed the wooden door behind me and I was too frightened to do anything. It was only after a HOME volunteer called the police and that I was released and brought back to the shelter.

About the author

Lana is a pseudonym.


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