Here is the transcript of our Facebook Live on Thursday 2nd April to help our community of migrant domestic workers go through COVID-19 challenges.
I am Marie, Uplifters Founder and CEO. Here is Jenely, the Uplifters Community Building Officer.
Uplifters is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering underprivileged communities with online education and peer support. We offer a free online money management course for domestic workers. You just need to click “ Send Message” on our Facebook page to enrol. https://www.facebook.com/uplifters.community/
This is the second episode of our Antivirus series and we are very happy to be here with you tonight.
These are challenging times for all of us and especially for our community.
Our objective with this Antivirus Video Live is to reply to your questions if we can or collect them and consult with professionals afterwards so we can answer them later. We are happy to come together as a community and provide comfort to each other in these difficult situations, we will go through it together. Uplifters is first and foremost a community and we will go through these difficult times with you.
We are very happy to have Bhing Navato as our guest tonight. She is a domestic worker in Singapore and a committed volunteer at Home, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics. We will discuss questions related to your days off.
Welcome to our live broadcast, Bhing. It’s a pleasure to have you with us tonight. Thank you very much for joining us.
Can you tell us something about yourself and your work as a domestic worker? How long have you been working in Singapore?
Bhing: Hello everyone. My name is Bhing. I’m really happy to be here in your live broadcast. I’ve been a domestic worker here in Singapore for almost 25 years. I really like it here. I have a very good employer. I joined HOME because I wanted to help my fellow domestic workers. I always say to people that I know I can do something to help them. I know I can encourage them with my experience. My 25 years of experience can be shared with them.
Why did you decide to volunteer with HOME? Please tell us more about the work that you’re doing for them.
Bhing: I’ve been volunteering for HOME for 5 years. If my fellow volunteers will ask me to do something, I always say “anything for HOME”. I like to help, especially for my fellow domestic workers. I want them to know that they are never alone. We are here to listen to them, share their burdens and find a friend in us. For those who call us on the hotline or come on Sundays they can tell us their problems. I notice that they just want someone to listen to them. For the newcomers, they don’t always know what to do. Although they go through training, it is still different in real life. We give them solutions and listen to them. They can call HOME at these numbers. The hotline is 1800-797 7977 (Toll Free) / +65 6341 5525. For WhatsApp and Viber, the number is +65 97873122.
Let’s talk about the impact of COVID-19 on the day off for domestic workers. Migrant domestic workers are strongly encouraged to stay at home on their day off by both the Hong Kong and Singapore government. How is this affecting domestic workers? What are the main problems that they are encountering?
Note: In Singapore, employers are allowed to pay domestic workers to work on their day off, however it is illegal in Hong Kong, they specify that domestic workers are entitled to 24 hours of uninterrupted rest (but that’s not always applied).
Bhing: The Ministry of Manpower sent a notice to encourage workers to stay at home on their day off but if they need to run errands, they can do so but need to come back immediately. Depending on the discussion between the employer and domestic worker, some domestic workers are not allowed to go out on Sundays but they can go out on weekdays to do errands. They feel it’s unfair to them. A lot of domestic workers are complaining that most of them do not have space to rest. In Singapore, employers are allowed to pay compensation if they don’t go out but some domestic workers will not be so lucky to have it, especially now that the notice from MOM continues to change.
How should domestic workers handle the issues you have described?
Bhing: I always remind them that they need to talk to their employers first. They need to ask nicely. For example, if they need to remit money to their families in the Philippines or Indonesia, they need to tell employers what they’re going to do. They need to understand the situation of what’s happening now. I always remind them to practice social distancing. We are so thankful that no domestic worker is infected with the COVID-19 virus.
If the domestic worker is too shy to talk to their employer, what would you advise?
Bhing: There are so many people in that situation. In Singapore, we don’t have the power of negotiation. Most of us just say yes to our employers because we need to keep our jobs. I tell them that “You came here, that’s your first step of being courageous.” Most employers here will treat their domestic workers like young girls. Communication is very important. No matter how fierce your employer is, it is important to talk to them. It is better than assuming something. Why don’t you try to ask them nicely? They always say I’m scared but you should have the courage to talk to your employer.
What if the employer infects the domestic worker?
Bhing: I think Singapore will cover the medical costs. I hope that she will be responsible to do her quarantine and social distancing. She should also tell her friends about it.
We’d like to hear about your experience. Were your days off affected since this situation started?
Bhing: My days off have been very affected. I want to set a good example by not going out. Even to my fellow volunteers, I tell them to practice social distance. When they told me to stay away from crowded places, I did not understand it at first. Everybody wants to go back to normal life again. But for now, we should try to understand the situation first.
There’s also an organization similar to HOME in Hong Kong. It’s called Help for domestic workers. Their number is 852 2523 4020. WhatsApp is +852 5936 3780. For WhatsApp in Bahasa Indonesia, + 852 5493 4660. You can also call them if you’re having issues or need advice.
Some of our members have shared feelings of anxiety and loneliness because of not being able to go out during their days off. It’s even more difficult for those who have been asked to work on their rest days. Because of the stay at home guidelines, their employers’ family is at home most of the time and domestic workers find themselves doing more work and not getting adequate rest. What is your advice to those who are struggling to cope with these changes?
Bhing: There are so many online learning courses that we can find on the Internet. For example, join Uplifters. You can take the time to chat with your family or friends that you haven’t talked to in a long time. If your employer allows you to go out even for a few hours, do some exercise. Pick up new hobbies and skills to ease your stress.
Social distancing guidelines were released recently. What are your tips in practicing social distancing?
Bhing: When my friends and I meet, we sit apart from each other by one meter. We share food but we make sure we observe proper hygiene between all of us. Social distancing means you should avoid crowded places. Even when you’re in the grocery, stand 1 meter apart from other people.
Thank you again, Bhing.