Myanmar Maid, Abuse, Death

Myanmar Maid, Abuse

Commentary: Pluralistic ignorance and why overcoming it can prevent abuse of domestic workers

Commentary: Pluralistic ignorance and why overcoming it can prevent abuse of domestic workers

13/3/2021 1:26:00 AM

Commentary: Pluralistic ignorance and why overcoming it can prevent abuse of domestic workers

The majority of employers know they cannot restrict the rest days of their domestic workers or keep their salaries or passport. However, some ...

AdvertisementAdvertisementIt had taken place in a densely populated housing estate where angry voices of perpetrators and cries of the victim could have been easily picked by neighbours.In an ideal scenario, many things could have averted her death. The employment agent could have visited her employer’s home to find out how she was coping.

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The doctor could have questioned her employer further about the bruises found on Piang Ngaih Don or could have insisted on a more thorough medical examination.A police report could have been made.AdvertisementGaiyathiri Murugaiyan. (Photo: Nisha Karyn)

Any one of these timely community interventions could have saved her life. Unfortunately, this is a regretful story of “could have beens” in an imperfect world where the life of a young mother was lost for reasons we are still learning.Studies in psychology show that while having more bystanders increases the likelihood a victim of crime will eventually receive help, an individual bystander is less likely to help because of diffused responsibility given the presence of others. headtopics.com

Bystanders assume that somebody else will help if the situation is indeed life-threatening, and therefore are less likely to offer help themselves.OVERCOMING PLURALISTIC IGNORANCEThis bystander effect extends to other issues that impact FDWs.In the course of our work, the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) has met many who have advocated for better treatment of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) such as granting them reasonable access to mobile phones, weekly rest days, and timely and full payment of salary.

These are basic employment rights to be accorded to all FDWs and we have campaigned regularly for these rights.READ: Commentary: Can we ever cut our dependence on foreign domestic workers?But while most of us agree the rights of FDWs should be upheld, practices running counter to these rights have persisted and are implicitly accepted by employers.

Out of over 2,000 FDWs we assisted in 2020, almost 50 per cent of them faced salary issues or some form of verbal and physical abuse, did not receive sufficient rest and food, were not given reasonable access to mobile phones, or were deprived of their weekly rest days.

Foreign domestic workers spending time on Orchard Road before the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore. (File photo: TODAY/Najeer Yusof)As a society, Singapore must overcome this pluralistic ignorance.Pluralistic ignorance refers to situations where individuals do not believe in a practice yet continue to engage in it because they wrongly assume that the practice is widely accepted. headtopics.com

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In our work, we see employers saying that even though they know that it is incorrect for them to safekeep their FDWs’ salary, work permit, and passport or restrict their weekly off days, they do it because “everyone else they know is doing it”.READ: Commentary: The wrangling over rest days foreign domestic workers and their employers face in Phase 2

Like the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes, who rightly pointed out that the emperor is not wearing any clothes, we must recognise and reject actions we intuitively know are wrong, even if others keep silent.Abusing FDWs has no place in our society, just as withholding their other employment rights must be stopped.

Such acts must be called out by anyone who comes across them. We have a moral responsibility to ensure every member of our society, especially those with less means to fend for themselves, can lead a dignified life.A SYSTEMS APPROACH TO STEM ABUSEStemming abuse of FDWs requires both individual and whole-of-society efforts.

As a society, we must recognise that FDWs are fellow human beings who have left their countries and families behind to work in Singapore so that they can secure a better future for their loved ones.FDWs, like all of us, have hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations. They too, like us, look forward to spending time with their loved ones, but are unable to do so because they are working here, far away from their homes. headtopics.com

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There is a subtle racism and superiority complex that trigger such abuses. Education can only bring the change in attitude.