Tonight I watched an investigative report on Dateline on the SBS Channel. It was about Indonesian Maids in Singapore.
I was quite amused at first of the reporting of maids in my country. Perhaps a bit defensive too. After all, my family has a maid in Singapore.
The report was basically about how Indonesian maids are being treated harshly and abusively by Singaporean employers. It was quite obviously against the treatment the maids received. However, I also felt that it probably also portrayed the situation in a worse light than it actually is. But I know there contained truths in it.
I remember about a year back being very angry with the kind of treatment my maid at home received from my parents. It wasn’t that they were treated abusively or whatever. But she didn’t have to be treated abusively for me to get worked up.
You can treat a person as a lowly 2nd class citizen, and not actually treat them abusively. The attitude of ordering the person around is something I don’t like – something that should never happen. Sure, the maids are paid to serve their employers, but let’s be careful not to take advantage of this fact. The maid is NOT a slave. And just because she’s from the Philippines or Indonesia or a country less well off than Singapore, she doesn’t deserve to be looked down upon. She is after all still a human, but I fear many employers overlook this fact.
The fact that they get only one Sunday off per month is a bit too much. Ya, sure, it may be in their contract, but so what? They deserve more breaks than that! The fact that maids are normally ordered around and scolded frequently is wrong too. It’s as though we Singaporeans have no compassion. We don’t know that it’s already bad enough for maids to be separated from their family to come here. We just want to make their money’s worth and get the maid to do as many things as possible during the whole day.
Surely there are instances of maids inviting their boyfriends over when their employers are not home, or instances of not doing their job properly…etc. But that doesn’t mean that we look at every maid with suspicion. Furthermore, I believe that maids should be allowed to get boyfriends – after all, most maids work here for years on end and it’s not right that they can’t get attached!
Maids should also be allowed to use the phones more than employers generally allow them to. Imagine living all alone in a foreign place! And then having your employer not allowing you to use much of the phone! How cruel is that!
We Singaporeans just have things too easily. We think we’re kings just because we come from a rich country. We think we have the right to treat maids the way we want to. We’re so used to treating these people as our “slaves” that we’ve lost any feelings of compassion or sympathy for them. And the moment we lose such feelings, it becomes dangerous. I wish more Singaporeans would pause more and look at the life of the maid from the eyes of a maid, not from the eyes of an employer. Better still, I wish more of us can live the life of a maid for a couple of days. Then we’ll know better how maids feel.
When I started to think about the documentary, I realized that within my own backyard, there are so many victims of oppression. Maids are one thing. But how about construction workers who are so looked down upon?
I don’t have to be in the Middle-East to be near oppression. I don’t have to be in Latin America to feel the poverty. I can be in my own country Singapore and stare oppression in the eye.
And the program opened my eyes to this fact. There needs to be more people helping the maids and the construction workers and other victims of oppression and injustice. There needs to be an organization or group fighting for these people’s rights. Are these people just our slaves? I think most Singaporeans will say yes and I think they will say that since they are like our slaves, we needn’t care so much for them. They just need to do their job and once they do that, they will get their pay. It’s as simple as that to most Singaporeans. No fuss is needed.
Why do more? Because if we have the compassion we will do so. If we have the common love for humankind, we will do so. If we’re not racist, we will do so. If we don’t want to see a class society persist, we will do so.
But Singapore’s just too rich and well off a country to care. If only some great tragedy will awaken us and open our eyes to care for others. If it takes a great tragedy to fan the fires of compassion and love in the hearts of the people, then we need it.