Trafficking in Singapore

What would you do if your boss made you work 18-hour days all week without overtime pay?


We have seen a lot of Indonesian workers working more than eighteen hours. We wish the hours were shorter. Maybe because our language skills are not so good, they use us like machines. (Human Rights Watch)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) published the “Made to order” to study the situation of human trafficking among foreign domestic workers in Singapore in 2005. It discusses several kinds of abuses and indicators of human trafficking, as well as the excessive working hours enforced on some domestic helpers. Sixty-five domestic workers were interviewed and most reported working 13 to 19 hours every day.

One domestic worker described her working conditions as follows:

I woke up at 4 a.m… Some employers are like that, they don’t want you to sleep or take a rest…. I didn’t have any breaks, I had so much work to finish….I would take my baths quickly. My employer would knock on the door…. “I didn’t tell you you could take a bath”… Sometimes…employers want the maid to clean until 10 p.m. or 12 a.m. and to start working again at 6 a.m.”

Several workers had around-the-clock jobs if they were caring for babies in addition to their other work:

There was one man, one woman, a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, and a three-week old girl. I had to look after the baby, clean the house, cook. I started work at 6 a.m. and went to sleep at 1 a.m. I had to look after the baby, so if the baby woke up in the night, I had to wake up too.”

According to HRW, a single domestic worker should not be the sole carer of an infant or elderly person around the clock. Other professions, like nursing (with similar demands), arrange for shift work that ensures workers get regular periods of rest. Employers must find ways to manage their own time and alternatives such as child care to ensure reasonable working hours for domestic workers. #stoptraffickingsg

For the full report, pl go to


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