With Filipino maids getting too expensive, more affluent countries like Singapore are now turning to their poor neighbors in Southeast Asia, raising doubts as to whether domestic help from Cambodia and Myanmar would be well-protected.

The Philippines once provided more than 90 percent of Singapore’s domestic help workforce, but that share has plummeted to 20 to 30 percent today because Filipino workers are now too expensive – the Philippines is the only Asian nation to have ratified the landmark International Labor Organization convention on domestic workers, which bans salary deductions for placement fees. Under the regulation, a Singaporean household would need to pay the placement fee for the domestic help it hires in addition to the salary, the Guardian reported Monday.

The rising price of Filipino domestic workers and the Philippines’ strict regulations have driven up demand for workers from other countries like Cambodia and Myanmar, who are often advertised as being “docile,” according to John Gee of Transient Workers Count Too, a Singapore NGO.

A Cambodian pilot program is going to send 400 women to work as domestic workers in Singapore, and almost all of their salaries for the first six months will be deducted to cover the placement fee, since Cambodia does not have regulations like the Philippines that stand behind its domestic workers going abroad. If the worker returns home prematurely, she will still need to repay the loan.

"Before the Asian financial crisis, it was pretty normal for Singapore employers to expect to pay for the placement costs," Gee said, according to the Guardian. "Then agencies began advertising '$0 maids', and the cost was transferred to the worker – and those costs tended to go up."

And workers from poorer nations could be at a disadvantage for their desperate need to earn money. Although Singapore recent mandated a weekly off-day for maids, the mandate allows employers to pay workers extra in lieu of a rest day if the maids agree.

“I don’t know what I would do on an off-day,” said Srey Mach, one of the women taking part in Cambodia’s pilot program. “We want to work more so we can get more money.”

Cambodia has run into trouble before with sending domestic help abroad. In 2011, the government stopped sending workers to Malaysia after a series of abuses emerged, including confinement, beatings and sexual exploitation. The government believes its workers will be better protected in Singapore, but rights groups remain skeptical, the Guardian reported. 



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