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Sample Chapter from The Word for World is Work: The Life of Women

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Understandably, Nimala did not want to remain in this abusive work environment. She had requested that she not continue with her employment by this family, and came to me to seek another job. She indicated that she would like to return home to visit her family first. Nimala knew that her employer would not give her the transfer letter without creating a disturbance. Nimala told her friend about a procedure that was enacted to prevent her transfer. On the third night of June, her employer had arranged for the agent to pick NImala up so that she could terminate her employment and return to her hometown. However, her employer never told her that the agent was coming, so Nimala was not able to get ready. Her employer was very angry with her and threw her belongings out of the house. Nimala had to quickly pick up her belongings, and pack to go. She had to pay for her own ticket home, and she was not paid her salary in full.

Under MOM law and regulations, the employer is obligated to pay a FDW’s airline ticket home, and the employer or agent is not allowed to keep the woman’s salary. Nimala’s employer was very inhumane. I believe that this employer knew that no woman would want to work for her. Nimala is a timid person who worked without complaining. As such, Nimala could be bullied by her employer. I was very willing to help Nimala find recourse for her salary and report the employer to MOM. Her employer is wrong to treat Nimala as she did—just because Nimala did not want to continue to work for her. Nimala had served her employer and family for six long years without being given a break to visit her family. Could we label this an abusive relationship? Is this an example of modern-day slavery?

I met another woman whom I will call Ricar. She is a single Filipino mother who was living with her parents in a Philippine province that is located near the sea. She had worked in Singapore for more than six years and was introduced to me. I deployed her to a family who had two daughters; one of the daughters is autistic and requires considerable patience to be win over. Ricar managed to gain the acceptance of this autistic daughter, and they grew very close. This daughter was able to co-operate and listen to Ricar. The relationship between Ricar and her employer family was quite strong. Furthermore, Ricar was an excellent cook. Her employers are both engaged in full-time work, so Ricar must operate independently, and she must take care of this young autistic girl to make sure she does her homework. Ricar also had to take her employer’s two daughter to and from school, and to their tutoring classes.

Six months into her employment, there was a major typhoon in Ricar’s country that hit right where her family lived. She heard news from her parents that a room of the house collapsed and killed her sister who was asleep. Her father was devastated. He fell sick and went into the hospital. Within two weeks she lost her father. The tragedy is even greater. Ricar had one brother who was handicapped. He was very close to her father. He could not accept the loss of their father; he walked into the sea and perished. Within one month, Ricar had lost her sister, father and a brother. She called me, and I could hear her crying.

I went to visit Ricar and asked her employer to let her go back home for a week or two so that she could settle matters. I also spoke to Ricar about closing off her contract. However, her employer told me they could not release her, as they could not easily replace her. So, I comforted Ricar and wondered how she was feeling. Ricar was a strong woman and told me it was alright. She knew that she would just continue to work and that it would be difficult for her to find a way to go back to her home. Furthermore, she needed to earn the money so that she could send it home. Her family could use the money to settle the bills and funeral arrangements. I felt very sorry for her.

Ricar had a young daughter to support. At that time, her daughter was about seven years old. Ricar went home after she completed her one-year contract because her mother was not well and Ricar wanted to take care of her daughter. She came back to Singapore to work again last year, but she was not deployed through me. Ricar contacted me when in Singapore, and told me that soon after she returned home, her mother passed away. Even greater burdens fell on her shoulders.

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