A two-pronged REACTIVE approach to prevent more Maid tragedy...

...will it be sufficient?

Flashback to 2 days ago, a good reader of mine (also an anonymous. Heh.) told me that an excerpt of my post was featured on the Sunday Times (05/06). To tell the truth, I did know about it but very much reluctant to blog about it.

C'mon, what did it serve except to blow my own trumpet?!

Then yesterday, Mon 06/06, I came across this Channel NewsAsia article, "MOM reviewing English test for domestic maids". It's said that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is conducting a full review of the written English proficiency test for foreign domestic workers (FDW). And that the review has been underway since it received feedback on the matter over the past several months.

Over the past several months and yet, still no outcome?! Was this review not put on the top of priority? It is very sad that the death of Sulastri Wardoyo, the maid who hung herself as she failed the test 3 times, triggers a wake-up call for us to expedite the review.

It's definitely also a wake-up call for Indonesia government who vowed to review training programs for migrant workers.

Again, a reactive, instead of proactive action.

Some may be disgusted at this approach (I am!), but I have to admit that the resulting follow-up actions are still better than there's no action altogether.

A loss of life is always a big loss. No matter whether it's a maid's.

I do wish, though, that more exposure is given by media on the departed's love ones. How's Sulastri's family reacting? Of course with a lot of grief, but do have such an interview, report it, and let more people aware the impact of the tragedy.

In that note, I'm shamelessly including the screenshot below of the aforementioned excerpt of my post.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is conducting a full review of the written English proficiency test for foreign domestic workers (FDW).

It says the review has been underway since it received feedback on the matter over the past several months.

The test is under the spotlight following the death of a 26-year-old Indonesian who hanged herself after failing it three times in as many days.

Currently, would-be maids have to pass the test within three days of their arrival.

They are sent back home if they fail but are free to come back to Singapore to re-take the test.

The problem is that those sent home often have to worry about debts incurred with recruitment agencies, and without a job, they cannot pay up.

Singapore is the only country in Asia-Pacific where the test is compulsory.

On her Facebook page, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, Denise Phua, said she had written an appeal to Manpower Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and he "promptly responded that he has already asked for a full review".

MediaCorp received a copy of Ms Phua's email to the minister.

In it, she wrote about how the current test was "borne out of good intent but the implementation needs fine tuning."

"It seems to be testing their English proficiency rather than their knowledge of their main duties as FDW. Good for MOM to revisit the competencies required of an FDW, knowing that not all employers themselves are proficient in English," wrote Ms Phua.

Ms Phua added the test should be revised to look at overall competencies of foreign domestic workers to do their jobs properly, for example, in looking after the elderly, disabled or children, and not just language proficiency.

"To be honest, had my domestic helpers who are outstanding, taken the test, I am not certain if they can do well or pass. These ladies should not have to incur loans, coming to look for work in vain. They should not have to suffer the stress and fear of 'exams'," wrote Ms Phua.

In a reply to MediaCorp, the MOM says it is reviewing the effectiveness of the test to ensure it remains relevant. This includes studying if the test should be completely abolished.

However, industry players are calling for the test to be abolished.

K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies, said: "Many years ago when we used to have domestic helpers coming in, we used to have girls from Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka.....

"Employers never really had a problem with communication. What happened was that when the girls came in, they seemed to settle in with the homes and they picked up the languages of the homes that they were working in.

"....English proficiency, I would say does not really play a very important role. It's the skills of the helper that every employer out there is interested in."

Bridget Tan, president of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), said: "The way that it's asked of the person who's taking the test...it's like little riddles and you have to choose (options) like A,B,C or 1,2,3 and it can be very confusing to women who are not familiar with the language and also women who are experiencing culture shock, homesickness and separation anxiety from their families."

If there's still a test, some are calling for it to be conducted at approved overseas centres.

The test was introduced in 2005 as part of measures to ensure that foreign domestic workers can adapt to working and living in Singapore.

The public can email suggestions to the ministry at mom_fmmd@mom.gov.sg.

From Channel NewsAsia, "MOM reviewing English test for domestic maids".

Officials on Friday vowed to review training programs for migrant workers as news reached the country that a maid who had attempted suicide after failing a Singaporean placement test had died in the hospital.

Sadono, the Asia-Pacific director for protection at the National Board for the Placement and Protection of Indonesian Overseas Workers (BNP2RKI), said the state would ensure that workers were prepared for life abroad before approving their permits.

“Workers who have not completed their training cannot be placed in any country to avoid any [problem] over the lack of skills or language training,” he said.

Last week, Sulastri Wardoyo, 26, tried to commit suicide by hanging herself at a hostel apparently because she flunked an English-language test three times, preventing her from working in the city-state.

Media reports said she suffered brain damage after the suicide attempt and was brought to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. Staff claimed that she had been depressed over the failure.

On Friday, the Straits Times reported that Sulastri passed away on Wednesday after being confined in intensive care.

Reyna Usman, secretary for training at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, said Sulastri’s case highlighted the need to prepare workers mentally for the stresses of life abroad.

“[Aside from] language skills, they also need to prepare mentally,” she said, adding that the government should find out why Sulastri failed the test.

“It is very important for the government to craft pro-training policies. This needs to be discussed nationally,” she said.

The government requires private recruitment agencies to give preparation courses for workers and state bodies like the State Ministry for Women’s Empowerment also teaches skills.

But Reyna said the state should not depend on recruiters to provide quality instruction.

Anis Hidayah, the executive director of Migrant Care, said on Thursday that the government needed to “tighten supervision” of placement agencies.

She said migrant workers’ readiness should be measured by their ability to speak the language of their employer country, their completion of administrative requirements and the skills they need for the job.

Reyna said the government would evaluate the preparations provided by placement agencies.

“I acknowledge that training programs are still weak and the government needs to evaluate the migrant-worker training system,” she said.

“It would even be better if the government will also be involved in giving training to the migrant workers. That way, we can improve the quality of the workers we send abroad,” she added.

From Jakarta Globe, "Govt Reviews Migrant Training After Maid Tragedy".

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