Risk-Management of Foreign Domestic Workers

Yasuko Kobayashi.

The number of foreign domestic workers in Singapore has increased since Singapore opened its markets in 1978. Currently about 150,000 foreign domestic workers are in Singapore. As so many Singapore women work outside the home, hiring foreign domestic workers has become a necessity rather than a luxury, as reflected in the remark by one employer that “ A Maid is a necessary devil that a working woman cannot do without…….” This boom in numbers has accordingly caused a problem. Abuse of foreign domestic workers by Singaporean employers, from physical in the most extreme cases to everyday verbal abuse, has become a common problem.

What causes this abuse? It is worth asking why Singaporeans, highly educated, civilized, and urbanized residents in the first world with an understanding of human rights, become involved in abuse. Does it mean that they are living in the first world materially yet their mentality is still in the third world?

Previous works on foreign domestic workers in Singapore tend to make the criticism that the state is not concerned about foreign migrant workers and does not attempt to protect their welfare. This study, rather than concentrating on the state's policies, attempts to determine who are the Singaporean employers of maids. In other words, what sort of subject is created and engaged in managing maids?

Despite the state's well-known reputation for imposing harsh punishments as an external force to discipline people, it actually controls Singaporeans by arousing their own motivation and responsibility. The Singaporeans as self-motivated people are willing to manage risks, as part of their own capability, not just to obey orders from the state. With these self-motivated subjects, the most efficient way for the state to manage foreign domestic workers is to hint that these workers can be a dangerous presence, so that the security consciousness of Singaporean employers will be triggered, so they themselves will watch and control foreign workers.

To explore this issue, the paper will touch on the issue of neoliberal governance and its subjects in Singapore. Secondly it will examine the Singapore state regulations about foreign domestic workers (often called ‘maids') in order to clarify the images of foreign domestic workers created by the state. Thirdly, it will show how Singaporean employers become involved in controlling foreign domestic workers in their own concrete context, by presenting voices from postings to websites for discussion on maids by Singaporean employers. This website is called “ Maidlibrary ,” and is one of the many internet search engines for finding desirable foreign domestic workers. On this website there is a section for Singaporean employers to exchange their opinions, problems, and solutions about how to deal with their maids. All voices presented below are from this website. Voices from this website are more revealing than official papers or interviews conducted by the media, because the real identity of the participants outside cyberspace is concealed. This anonymity lets Singaporean employers pour their hearts out. Therefore, it discloses the naked reality of what their life with maids is like.

1. Self-motivated subjects under neoliberal governance in Singapore

We need to shift the widely accepted image of Singapore society as a “punishment” society to an image of it as a society under neoliberal governance. This study does not aim to answer the question of when it shifted from punishment to governance-without-governing. Yet it is possible to shed some light on the historical path of Singapore governance and to show how governance-without-governing was built into the society in the very early stages of nation building.

F rom the very beginning of the building of the Singapore nation, meritocracy and quasi - market principles were deployed to form the society. Meritocracy means that everyone can promote him/herself to be successful in Singapore so long as s/he makes an effort, regardless of ethnicity or class background. This is intended to overcome ethnic divisions by applying universal appeal. It also delivers the following message from the government to the national people: ‘don't you dare blame your failures on the social structure. If you are not successful, this is because of your lack of effort or willingness to succeed.' Through this government rhetoric ‘Being Singaporean' came to mean being motivated to be diligent, hardworking, successful in achiev ing goals . Being Singaporean is defined and bounded by this ethic of meritocracy to accelerate competition .

To be Singaporean, one needs to show that one is motivated and can make an effort regardless of one's own preferences and desires. Here a seemingly individual ethic is combined with the sphere of the society. To be self-motivated and, in the best case, to achieve something for oneself through this motivation, tends to be performed as and considered as something within the individual sphere. Yet, since this self-promoting ideology of meritocracy is also the national ideology, individual performance is inevitably connected to the public and political sphere. This is the mentality of the subject that the Singapore government has created through their nation-building process .

This self-promoting subject will attempt to surmount almost any obstacle to achieve new targets or goals presented by the state. Even 180-degree turns in policy direction simply become new targets or goals to be achieved in people's mind; the risky nature of policies being taken for granted in postmodern society. When new policy becomes reality people will perform it without even remembering how the past was different, because it is ethically correct for self-motivated subjects to work hard towards achieve new goals, instead of looking back. Self-motivated subjects are activated by their inner desire to prove how capable they are in the face of new changes. In this way one makes sure of one's position in the society. Ostentatious terms such as ‘nation', ‘the government', or ‘patriotism' are not even necessary to activate people; this is governing without governance.

For instance, in line with the trend of emphasising the importance of Chinese language, one Singaporean Tamil university student I met began to study Chinese language. She is not required to do so in school because her officially defined second language is Tamil in line with her ethnicity. Yet , she is willing to try learning Chinese and expresses her feelings by saying, “if you work hard, you can do (anything) .” She clearly feels good about her positivism and self-motivation. Perhaps she can even dream of appearing in the national newspaper, Strait Times , as a success story; a role-model of a non-Chinese Singaporean manag ing to master Chinese through self motivation . And then she will gain recognition from the society . This choice to learn Chinese is ostensibly her personal choice but it is inevitably connected to the national ideology, meritocracy.

This type of nexus of the society and individuals is also seen in Britain as “advanced liberalism.” According to Rose, “individuals are to fulfil their national obligations not through their relations of dependency and obligation to one another, but through seeking to fulfil themselves within a variety of micro-moral domains or “community” -families, workplaces, schools, leisure associations, neighbourhood.” Like participating in leisure, studying Chinese is one of this variety of micro-moral domains.

This self-motivated nature of the subject in Singapore is also reflected in their everyday usage of the words “ cope” or “capable” to measure each other . Being capable is ethically good and rationally welcomed as the result of worthy effort by a self - improving subject . In such a society, what is the most efficient way for the government to control foreign domestic workers, the necessary yet undesirable labour force from outside Singapore? The answer is simple: to let the willing and self-motivated Singaporeans participate in this control. For that purpose, t he government needs to give certain prompts to trigger the security ‘antennae' of these subjects.

Firstly t he government co-opts the employers of foreign domestic workers as agents of this control by the threat of penalties (discussed below). Then, it conveys an image of foreign domestic workers as dangerous. In doing so it does not even use the adjective “dangerous;” it just peppers its discourse with elements that tells employers that these workers are not quite ethically suitable. After that, their antennae will be attuned to risks created by these ethically suspect foreign domestic workers.

Risk-taking is also a part of Singaporeans' capability. A self-motivated subject is willing to measure and detect potential risks, in order to prove how capable s/he is. In this case, the state policies hint at who might create a risk within the very private and domestic domain of individual Singaporeans: namely maids. What the self-promoting subjects should thus do is to measure and define these maids, gather information on them and figure out ways to control them as a precaution.

2. The state policies toward Foreign Domestic Workers

Singapore women are highly engaged in productive labour outside the home. To replace them inside the home, foreign domestic workers are the inevitable source of cheap labour. However, at the same time these maids are not desirable as Singaporean citizens. The state policy is designed to realise this, by importing them, exploiting them, yet controlling them.

To maximise the value of their labour, the state keeps the protection of foreign domestic worker to a minimum. It devalues domestic work as ‘non-proper' informal work by not including foreign domestic workers under the Employment Act. Exclusion from the Employment Act means firstly that the relation between employer and maid is left as a “personal arrangement.” This means the maid's working conditions and schedule can be arranged at the employer's will. In this situation, maids can be scheduled to wake up at 5, go to bed only when they finish their work at night, and wake up at 2 am to feed the baby.

This “personal arrangement” not only creates labour that is available around the clock, but also allows termination of the contract at the employers' will. Employers can dismiss maids without any notice. They can do so on their own grounds, such as for “practicing black magic.” Whether a maid can change to a new employer after being dismissed is also left to the will of the employer. In the worst case, the employer can decide to repatriate the maid. And the maid cannot even have a free legal consultation because she is not under the Employment Act.

This situation will continue, in tandem with the new state policy for accelerating the birth rate. Under the new Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, a package to boost the population was issued in August. It contains a reduction in the levy for hiring maids. This levy reduction explicitly targets those families most needing childcare: families with a child below twelve or with parents aged above 65. This type of care cannot be scheduled because a baby cries any time. So the new package is made viable by providing a labour force that available any time day or night.

As for control, the Singapore state co-opts the employers to watch their maids themselves, by penalizing them if they fail to. As an employer, you must pay a security deposit of $5000 and this will be lost if the maid gets pregnant and you fail to repatriate them as soon as their pregnancy is detected (Maids may not become pregnant even through marriage). They are barred from marrying Singaporean citizens during their service. There is no exception to repatriation in the case of pregnancy. To detect pregnancy, a medical examination is compulsory in every 6 months and this is a part of the employer's responsibility. So having the maids examined medically becomes important for the good of the employers themselves.

This medical examination includes three items in addition to a pregnancy test; namely, a general medical screening, a test for HIV, and a test for venereal disease. In addition to that security deposit of $5000, employers must pay $10,000 for Personal Accident Insurance for their maid. This can be paid by instalment and is reimbursable. However, if their maid commits suicide while in Singapore, the employer will lose the full reimbursement.

3. Risk-management of maids

To clarify, legal regulations portray foreign domestic workers in a particular way. As a maid, a worker has little protection from the law and a low salary, her working conditions are determined by the will of the employer, she must submit to repeated medical examinations, she may not become pregnant, nor marry a Singaporean. This all carries a message about who foreign domestic workers are. It says, perhaps they are all lowly-qualified people with no other option. And the nature of the items of the medical check (pregnancy, AIDS, venereal disease) gives the employers a message about the likely immoral behaviour or lack of ethics of maids that makes these tests necessary.

Yet, the state policies do not explain why maids – unlike other expatriate workers from advanced countries – are subject to these conditions and restrictions. So, Singaporean employers need to make sense of why their maids deserve the current conditions, particularly because they live with them in the same house. Moreover, these policies do not mention protection of Singaporean employers when they have trouble with maids, except for stating how they might be penalized. This inadequacy of the state regulations is often sensed by employers.. One employer states

“We have all hired a live-in-thief. And MOM [Ministry of Manpower] and police cannot or will not do anything about it.”

while another employer observes:

“The law in Singapore only knows how to punish S'porean but fail to protect them.”

This shows that the state's ‘hands-off' approach applies to both the employers and maids, it is not simply the case that, as pointed out Yeoh and Huang, ) its policies fail to safeguard the welfare of maids. It is perhaps more appropriate to understand this ‘hands-off' approach as neoliberal governance. It is a sophisticated combination of intervention and ‘standing back' by the state, towards both the employers and maids.

From the state's viewpoint, the laws should be designed to differentiate maids so that Singaporean employers can sense the potential of danger and willingly participate in controlling them, as a form of risk-management. And the regulations use the politics of difference in order to incorporate, differentiate, and manage maids. The self-motivated Singaporean employers are driven to exercise risk-management on their own initiative, even to the point of taking action beyond what the regulations require. As a first step, as is often seen in risk-taking management, the Singaporean employers need to measure maids and to define them.

3.1 The adjectives frequently used by Singaporean employers

It is helpful to identity adjectives used to describe foreign domestic workers by Singaporean employers, to show their perceptions about their maids.

“Very slow with her work. Belief in magic spell”.

“Good eater. Lazy & never obey instructions. Friend with Bangladeshi”.

“My existing maid, hopeless. Cannot understand English, do thing slowly, act blur [i.e. ‘bluh' – stupid].”

“I don't know if she is just acting blur [stupid] or really cannot tell me the exact time. Don't tell me she can't even read a clock??”

“My maid can be quite forgetful on certain things. I told her I will forget her salary if she keeps on forgetting this & that………..”

“She has this fetish for Food. We gave her way enough huge portions but a while later, she will still be scavenging for more.”

“i am gonna send her off coz she never listens to what I say. She does things her way.”

“Some people blame maid for having sex with hubby. Yes, the maid is horny. ...”


She only knows how to fried chicken wing & fish, fried vegetables. Imagine every dinner U have to eat this??? So angry.”

These traits are ascribed to maids: lazy, slow, greedy without self-control, rude, rebellious, dishonest, unable to cook and lustful. If we put these adjectives with their antonyms we see an imagined dichotomy between maids and ‘good' Singaporeans. However, this dichotomy itself is not the point. More importantly, on what grounds are these adjectives applied to foreign domestic workers?

These adjectives share one thing: they denote traits that are acquired, not inherited or inborn. They can be changed or improved by maids with their effort. So, the shortcoming of the maids lies in her lack of an active spirit of self-improvement. By this logic, blaming the shortcomings of maids is not discriminatory. It is rational, based on the logic of meritocracy. Look at these remarks by employers:

“We too are working for our boss and we must be sincere in our output. Sadly, these low educated domestic helpers has failed to realise it.”

“Please remember they are maids. Do you want the same standard like them? Commonly said, “if you are of our standard, they won't be here as maid.”

And another employer says:

“It is because of MAIDS like YOU, barbaric as YOU are, we have no choice but try to put up with YOUR nonsense with nonsense. Can you read, speak and write proper English…? See, YOU will only remain a MAID FOREVER. Why don't you start learning your manners and proper English before you make a scene and a fool or yourself here ???? It's for your own good.”

The reason that these people need to become maids, then, is not because they are Indonesian or Thai or Filipino. Instead it is because they are not achieving the necessary standard and have not made efforts to do so – unlike Singaporeans, who for example make a tremendous effort to manage English to reach a higher social level. Their failure is measured by meritocracy, by quasi-market principles. It is due to a different level of effort to work well and to improve oneself. A phrase by one employer, “because we use our brains and can be trusted, we are where we are,” highlights the logic of meritocracy. If we put it the other way round, maids could be where their employers are if they used their brain as they do.

The anger, frustration, and blame of employers reflect their question: “why can't maids work like Singaporeans, with effort, seriousness and efficiency, and understand and appreciate the kindness of their boss?”

I always tell my maid if you have improved from your last mistake, no one will ever say you are slow or stupid. So, in order to make people believe and trust that you can do well without getting constant scoldings – just give your best performance. All of us working here in Singapore have to go through yearly appraisal. If we don't pass that, we can forget about getting promoted or pay increase. If we, ourselves, have to be appraised, why can't we correct our maids?

Frustrated and angry, employers come to view the maids as lacking in effort and motivation, and therefore beyond their ethical understanding.

“Their reciprocating our kindness back with their defiance, bossiness, laziness… etc… is simply something WE can never comprehend. Hence, it's better to accept this fact about them and perhaps we'll find a better way to deal with them.”

The boundary is thus defined by ethics and reason. These maids are beyond their “ethical” and “rational” boundary. A Singaporean employer does not see any hope of improving maids; they are a low-grade commodity whose value cannot be added to. Due to their irrational resistance of all attempts to improve them they deserve no further investment in the form of training or education. This irrationality of maids is also interpreted to mean that they can behave strangely, even to the point where they can cause harm or danger. This perception makes employers feel they are taking risks by living with them.

Instead of helping us, end up she giving us more stress coz we do not want what is the next “funny” thing that she will do. At the same time we are also putting our family member at risk, esp, our baby.”

At this stage, it is important for the self-motivated Singaporean employers to take precautions against the risks posed by maids. This does not mean activating the maids themselves to improve to reach the standard of Singaporeans, as they are identified as beyond hope. Against such people, almost any measures can possibly be taken.

3.2 Actual procedures of risk-management

Risk-management can easily connect even trifling issues such as the size of a maid's appetite with a sense of risk (in this case, risk of economic harm). When one employer complains of a maid:

“She has this fetish for Food. We gave her way enough huge portions but a while later, she will still be scavenging for more.”

a reply shows the need to be vigilant in this respect and to take precautions:

“If you do not SUPERVISE them they will eat all the goodies that is left on the table.”

And another three employers also emphasise the need for precautions to avoid this risk of maids overeating:

“ I do keep good food at home sometimes but my maid is trained not to touch them, or her salary will be deducted accordingly. This is something I told her from the very beginning….. All these must be trained from the beginning, else it'll be too late .”

“ I think the moment you let your maid eat anything she like, it's quite difficult to ‘ reduce ' her appetite later.”

“I also told her not to eat what I kept aside for myself & hubby otherwise I will deduct her pay, I said these on her 1 st day of work with me…”

The dangers of failing to take precautions are highlighted in these remarks, by phrases such as “the moment that you let …,” and, “ else it'll be too late ” – which even make it sound as if infants or animals are being talked about. And not taking precautions against such beings is indeed a failure. One said:

“I guess … it's EMPLOYER'S fault for being too nice to maids.”

Here, the conduct of employers in failing to avert the risk of harm from maids is regarded as worthy of blame.

Singaporean employers are likely to refuse to give their maids a day-off. The refusal to do so should be understood within this context of perceived risk-taking. This climate of risk itself is created largely by the state, with its' threats of financial penalties and its' demands for medical examinations which imply the likelihood of ‘loose' behaviour by maids.

The postings cited below vividly present how employers see a maid's day off as a risk to themselves. If they give the maid a day off and let her go out:

•  Can you be sure they don't make friends or boyfriends?

•  Can you make sure they don't get pregnant?

•  Can you make sure they don't bring their friend to your house when you are not home

•  Can you make sure they do not tell their friends your daily activities, routines etc….

•  Can you make sure they don't run away from you - and you have to pay the steep penalty for a runway maid.

•  Can you make sure they don't bring in diseases, sickness back to your home?

•  When your money, electrical appliances gone missing, how you know if your maid has taken your money/property and spent it, or given them away as presents to their friends?

•  Can you make sure your maid is in the right company, and not crooks?

Maids are thus pictured as desperate for male company, ‘easy' in sexual matters, prone to disease as well as to criminal conduct, and likely to cost you large fines. Maids comprise a full set of dangerous elements: risks both to your economic well-being and to your children's security.

“Our young Children — if they are left alone at home with the maid and her boyfriend came over, will the young ones be safe from harm?”

From the viewpoint of risk-management, the last thing to do is to give a day-off to your maid. It is wise, appropriate, and rational to control and watch them within the confines of the home, before anything happens. And to assist and justify their conduct the employers cite the state's policies:

Employer should have the right to decide what is right and what is reasonable. If the day off is not stated in the employment contract, by all means take it back.

And similarly:

Off day isn't a must to maids…. U are so confident that she would not mix around? What if she finds boyfriends & get pregnant? Just be firm on your stand & that's it…..

And once again we see the idea that if something goes wrong, it is the employers' own fault for failing to protect themselves. This employer sees the issue of a maid's day-off in those terms:

“Day off for maid to go out? U encourage them to find boyfriend!! U will be in hot soup one day, just see…....”

And that employer lays the blame even more explicitly by saying “you are partly at fault to give her day off from the beginning.”

In the face of the risk to security that maids pose to employers, another theme is the need for surveillance.

It is important to never let her be outside of your house without supervision—no matter how long she has been with you. … You can never completely trust them. Even if my maid is washing car or carrying garbage outside, I make her ask permission to go out, and I watch from window. (it is important she sees you watching.) this is for her own good and for your family's safety.

Luckily technology can help too. I have a security alarm on my door that I keep on all the time. Maid does not know my code, so if she ever opens door, she knows alarm will go off. Remember, if you are lady off the house, it is your duty to keep check on your maid. Bad can happen if you do not.

Here the surveillance is justified for the sake of the family's security. And pushing this idea a bit further, some employers install a camera in their own house to watch their maids.

“Good to have a hidden camera in yr house if no one is with yr maid while u are working. There is a latest type that links to your computer & U can get to see what's going on while u are at work.

Or another surveillance strategy, of using your own children, is suggested:

since your 2 children are more or less able to articulate themselves and somewhat independent, why not you educate how your children can "report" things to you ? It's probably for at least a few months to check that this new maid is doing her work and if she's responsible or not before you let your maid "independent".

E.g. Telephone you if maid cooks or not; if maid does housework etc. And let your children know at a high level what maid is supposed to do for them.

Another danger posed by maids, for some employers, is that of black magic. Even employers who are sceptical about black magic might take precautions against it. One says:

“ Actually I don't really believe in black magic…but the thing is...When it comes to maids and after hearing 1001 stories about them, ….I just need to beware of such problems. precautioun is better than sorry.”

Some employers take precautions to avoid being cursed with a spell. A simple measure is to check the maid's belongings for evil objects. Below are three suggestions from two different employers.

“Just do occasional checking in order to protect you and your Family what!”

“What I do is check everything they have in the presence of the agency and get them to surrender such weird stuff so that they do not bring them into my house.”

“… we went through her things as she was packing… we became more cautions when checking through their stuff, even reached the extent of checking in the pockets. Guess what I found??? Some soil & sand products wrapped up in a handkerchief. …I've learned and would like other employers to be more cautious in future about what maids bring with them to Singapore and then into our houses! I'm not accusing the maid of anything, but it's still prevention is better then cure!”

And if this step is not enough to prevent the risk of black magic, a more drastic precaution is to dismiss her:

“Taken necessary actions such as regular inspection if u've to. The BOTTOM LINE IS BETTER B SAFE THAN SORRY FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY SAKE. …[I am] glad that I manage to prevent a tragic happening (from the maid) b4 anything else.”

Inspecting the maid's belongings can also have another purpose: to prevent her stealing things. One piece of advice is:

“Stop check her bag at least once a month”.

And another:

You should not feel bad or feel embarrassed to check your maids' bag. (Please search thoroughly including inside sanitary pads.) Dealing with maids, one must take charge the very first minute…. Throw away or confiscate (for safe-keep) anything that you do not like the maid to have - e.g. cosmetics, papers, telephone numbers, money, etc. Again, you should not feel apologetic about this. Remember this saying :give them anything, they take double.

Such strategies are motivated by a genuine concern about the dangers posed by maids, as this remark illustrates:

“ In my opinion, you are right about treating maids humanely, but as you said the world is unfair. So, I'd rather the person to suffer not be me nor my family.”

3.3 Establishment of a “black listed maid community”

The concern by employers' about the dangers of hiring maids also leads them to a new solution, namely, a published “black-list” of bad maids. The origins of this idea are traced below.

While complaining to each other about their maids employers come to feel the need to unite their voices in taking further action to manage the risks that these maids create. An employer says

“it is really nice to see that we are not only ones experiencing problems with trust.”

And another says:

U know what's the greatest problems with employers like us? nobody wants to unite n form a employer support group to protect ourselves so some ppl just take the chance and accused the employers as and when they like. I think there shld be a employer support group to air our voices within.”

Their feelings about their own lack of unity are revealed in their perception of the maids.

“They [maids] are really united, they will help each other. Sad to say, Singaporeans don't help one another.”

Employers also begin to doubt the integrity of maid agencies. One employer worries how the agency will deal with the unsatisfactory maid who she wants to repatriate.

I'm worried that if we send her back, can the agent bring her in again say in a month time for another employee? Surely we dun wanan [don't want] the agent to transfer the maid to another family.”

Why does she want to make sure that this sacked maid will be repatriated and never come back? Because “I do not want to pass my problem to another employer.” This responsible concern to form a united front among employers and share information about maids receives a warm response:

“It's really thoughtful of u to have others well-being at heart. One way is to check her passport again (i.e. if she did not make a new one) other than that I think it's difficult to trace … Where will she be? Nobody knows. I think it wld be nice if we can post some pics. Of the maid and wicked hearted maids…..

To follow this idea, an employer posted the details of her maid, in a section titled, “dun take tis maid [ Don't take this maid ] . She posted her maid's name, nationality, date of birth, and passport number and date of issue, for other employers to identify her. Another employer wrote to thank her and to ask for more information still:

“It's very good that u can actually share w us not to take this maid. It'll be great if u can post her photo here. Cos' i think some maids actually change her identity & come back to S'pore to work again. This always happen when they disappear fm their current employer & go back & then.....”

To follow this advice, a photo of that “bad maid” was duly posted. Then similar sections on the website were created by others to share details about other bad maids. And it was suggested that:

We should all list down the names of maids with good & bad records so that it can serve as a useful & informative material for us while we do our search for one……

These postings provided the blueprint for the next, more systematic step to ensure that bad maids are never hired again. An employer then declared the establishment of a “BLACKLISTED MAID COMMUNITY” on the web.

To ALL employer,

It would be a fantastic idea to list down the name of those bad-hearted maids here so that these black sheeps can be made aware to those in the dark. The topic starter "D on't take this maid" has make a brilliant move by doing so. I hope more employer can come forward to give the name of these black sheeps better still if there is photographs so that u'll not fool by all their particulars change.

This is the only way to help n build trust among ourselves so that we know who R the "TRUE" maid. Maybe photographs can be arrange on a 1 to 1 meeting basis if u don't wanna post them here. In this case, we'r also helping S'pore to "axe" the wolf maid. Off course I'm not saying all r bad. wat do u guys think? ”

This idea, founded in a sense of justice, was celebrated by other employers in a chorus of support:

“I'm glad u seconded the thoughts. I always believe that is the only way all employers can help each other rather than rely on agencies n whatever bodies.

yes….the truth always shine brighter and that is believe in ourselves….. Let's hope it start kicking n work towards a clean n green maid environment here in S'pore.”

“ We should list out some of the very bad maids so as to protect other fellow employers from going through the trouble of hiring them.”

“Yeh, it is necessary to record those “bad maids” so that in future they are not allowed entry to deceive our Singapore fellowmen. Pls share on your whole list!!”

“I support the idea of blacklisting the maids so that other employers in Singapore will know who they are !!!!!”

And an additional security feature was recommended to help identify bad maids who tried to evade the Black List:

“For maid, beside just their details and photograph, Thumb print will be the best to identify the maid with the change of identity.”

This Black List is regarded as a precious resource, as we see from this request by an employer:

“Is it possible to have a full name-list of those maids being blacklisted since this topic started? I noticed that certain names will be deleted when the forum is full. So, I hope the board can put all blacklisted names on a column. Thanx.”

4. Conclusion

Differentiation of maids by means of law, and community discourse succeeds in creating fear of them among Singaporean employers. This fear drives those self-motivated subjects to work diligently to detect potential risks, share information about them, and to find out the way to control maids in the cyberspace even to the point of uploading photos of individual foreign domestic workers. This is not asked of them by the state or its laws, butwillingly done by the Singaporean employers. Here maids have been efficiently incorporated, differentiated and managed through willing and unconscious cooperation of the society with the state.

As Sarah Nettleton points out, we are living in a contemporary risk culture:

A core feature of contemporary risk culture is the constant habit of assessing and making calculations about potential risks which might affect our lives. We seek out, and are continually presented with information produced by, an increasingly diverse array of ‘experts' on virtually every aspect of our lives: what we eat; how we sleep; our finances; our intimate relationships; our health; our leisure; and so on.”

When our fear is terrorism, or new diseases such as SARS or bird flu, our minds tends to be moulded by information collected and presented by professionals as rational and credible information. We hardly stop to think ourselves what this fear means, to whom, and in what context, nor do we realize that it is self-motivated subjects who actually detect or create such fear and submit it to the market place as a commodity. Our case of risk-management of maids by employers in Singapore reveals how such subjects do sense fear and then create risks, in the guise of rational logic – seemingly universal yet in fact peculiar to themselves. Otherwise, the size of a maid's appetite or the practice of black magic may not be automatically associated with fear. These employers even become experts in cyberspace on the maid issue due to the lack of professional experts, gather a pool of information, exchange and evaluate it; and figure out manoeuvres to control their fears.

Once maids are pinpointed as being the opposite of the moral community, i.e. Singaporeans, and are measured as a potential risk, almost everything about them can be identified as a target for managing that risk. Furthermore, almost any acts or measures against them can become rational, and justifiable for the sake of the enshrined slogan of 'security'.

In the face of the era surrounded by fear we should be very afraid. In the first place, fear your own fear, and know what it means and where it comes from, and whose interests it serves. In other words, let us untangle this fear before creating and submitting ourselves to it. Then we can pause and ask a question: do we really have to fear black magic?

This is one of the examples of working schedule planned by an employer, posted to the website entitled “ Topic: Time managing: Overslept maid .”

“She normally sleep at 11pm or earlier, her bedtime depends on how fast she finishes her work & what time my baby sleeps. My baby will wake up at 2am or other night time. She has to wake up too to feed him. My work place requires me to travel 1 hour & I need her to get my breakfast ready by 630am. She has to wake up at 530am.”

This is one of the examples of termination without notice posted to the discussion section entitled, “ Topic: tell or don't tell her, she's going back?

“sending home maid on sunday. maid knows nothing of it. agent says not to tell her, just without her knowledge, pack her bags and send her to a/port then upon check in tell her she's going back.”

The levy is charged at $ 345 a month, but for a family with child below twelve or parents aged over sixty-five it is only $250 a month.

All original grammar and spelling has been retained

The topic title is “ Topic: RUNAWAY MAID .”

Ibid .

Breanda S.A. Yeoh, Shirlena Huang, Joaquin Gonzales ? , Migrant Female Domestic Workers: Debating the Economics, Social and Political Impacts in Singapore, in The International Migrant Review , 33-1, 1999, P117.

Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire , Cambridge, Mass. ; London : Harvard University Press, 2000 , p201.

The topic title is “ Topic Hopeless & Useless Maid .

Ibid .

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Topic: Problem: Maid cannot tell what time is it ... or is that really the case?

The topic title is “ Topic: Scenario: Forgetful maid.... .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Problem: Maid with Big appetite .”

The topic title is “ Topic: stayed up at her sister's house the whole night .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Horny Sir + Horny Maid = Bang .” !!

The topic title is “ Topic: Scenario: Maid can't cook anything else .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Problem: Trust .”

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Time management :Overslept maid…

The topic title is “ Problem: Trust .”

The title of topic is “ Topic: Comment: Treat a maid like animal, you'll get one .”

The topic title is “ Topic: stayed up at her sister's house the whole night .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Maid stealing?

The topic title is “ Topic: Problem: Maid with Big appetite .”





The topic title is “ Topic: stayed up at her sister's house the whole night .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Time managing: No day off .”

The topic title is “ Maid got boyfriend .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Time managing: No day off .”

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Topic: Off-day: Day-Off Does Help .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Time managing: No day off .”

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Topic: Tech-help: Can hidden camera help?

Similar suggestions can be seen other discussion sections, e.g.

“Put a camera at hme & watch her, that's wat i do 2 my maid.U will find a lot of funny tings she do” in

the topic title, “Topic: two face maid.”

The topic title is “ Headache with maid .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Perculiar: Ref. about black magic issue .”

Ibid .

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Topic: Perculiar: More black magic .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Perculiar: Ref. about black magic issue .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Upon arrival: Checking her belongings .”

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Scenario: Lost utter control of wayward maid .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Problem: Trust .”

The topic title is “ Headache with maid .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Bad Maid .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Maid stealing?

Ibid .

Ibid .

The topic title is “ dun take tis maid .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Blacklisted Maid .”

Ibid . The photo of a blacklisted foreign domestic worker with her details was uploaded to the website.

The topic title is “ Topic: Blacklisted Maids

In addition to this, other photos of blacklisted maids were posted onto the site.

The topic title is “ Topic: SETTING UP A "BLACK LISTED" MAID COMMUNITY .”

Ibid .

The topic title is “ Topic: Scenario: Lost utter control of wayward maid .”

The title of topic is “ Topic: Comment: Treat a maid like animal, you'll get one .”

The topic title is “ Topic: SETTING UP A "BLACK LISTED" MAID COMMUNITY .”

The topic title is “ Topic: Full namelist of blacklisted maids .”

Sarah Nettleton and Roger Burrows, Individualisation process and social policy, in John Carter ed. Postmodernity and the Fragmentation of Welfare , Rougledge, 1998, p154.

Michael Hill and Lian Kwen Fee, The politics of nation building and citizenship in Singapore , London ; New York : Routledge, 1995, p31.

Michael Hill and Lian Kwen Fee, ibid , p31.

“ This universalistic appeals are intended to override the development of ethnically based nationalism….”

Paul Higgs, The reconceptualization of citizenship, in Graham Scambler and Paul Higgs eds. Modernity, medicine and health : medical sociology towards 2000 , London ; New York : Routledge, 1998, p182.

My casual conversation with a Singaporean Indian, dated on March, 2003.

Nikolas Rose, Governing “advanced” liberal democracies, in Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose eds, Foucaut and Political Reason , the University of Chicago Press, p57.


Postings to this website are quoted verbatim except for the correction of a few trivial and distracting typing errors.

Breanda S.A. Yeoh, Shirlena Huang, Joaquin Gonzales ? , Migrant Female Domestic Workers: Debating the Economics, Social and Political Impacts in Singapore, in The International Migrant Review , 33-1, 1999, p117.

The Singapore government first granted work permits (a type of visa) to allow a limited recruitment of domestic servants from Thailand, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines in 1978.;action=display;num=1056529964;start=0#0

This website is organized by a Singapore NGO group (The Working Committee 2) to support the human right of foreign domestic workers. There is a section for forum within it, entitled “letters to TWC2.” The quote is posted on the section entitled “ Rest Day For Maids .”

Another similar remark can also be seen in the section entitled, “Topic: Have COEs for maids-St.times 26.9.2003;action=display;num=1065177413

“a typical helpless s'pore family who are left with no choice but to engaged a live in maid situation before even sharing how he (mr devan) actually run his home domestic chores with in-between/part time alternatives.”

Loo Bee Geok ; [translated from the Chinese by Betty Tan] , I am a Filipino maid , Singapore : Path Seekers, 1989 . This is a valuable source because it is one of very few books to reveal the actual life of maids in Singapore.

Shirlena Huangn and Brenda S.A. Yoeh, Ties That Bind: State policy and Migrant Female Domestic Helpers in Singapore, Geoforum , 27-4, 1996, p486. This article calls the state policies as “State's ‘hands-off' approach,” because “the state does not attempt to impose any clearly defined operative mechanism to protect the daily welfare of these migrant women.”

It is entitled as “Myriads of Maid Issues.”





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