Abused domestic worker who died: No complaints received from family’s past four workers, says Singapore's Ministry of Manpower

(Left) An old picture of Piang Ngaih Don. (Right) Prema S Naraynasamy and her daughter Gaiyathiri Murugayan, both in bodily restraints, being escorted separately to their Bishan flat by police investigators in August 2016. — Pictures via Facebook and TODAY
(Left) An old picture of Piang Ngaih Don. (Right) Prema S Naraynasamy and her daughter Gaiyathiri Murugayan, both in bodily restraints, being escorted separately to their Bishan flat by police investigators in August 2016. — Pictures via Facebook and TODAY

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SINGAPORE, Feb 25 — The family whose foreign domestic worker was abused to death had hired four others before, but the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) did not receive any complaints or “adverse feedback” from those previous workers.

In a statement yesterday giving more details on the deceased Myanmar worker Piang Ngaih Don, 24, who was starved and abused to death by her employer Gaiyathiri Murugayan over nine months, MOM said that it has safeguards in place to prevent the abuse of maids.

It also said that it will see how it can support healthcare providers in identifying cases of possible abuse.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo described the case as “appalling”.

She added that the Government takes the protection of foreign domestic workers seriously and will let the law run its course.

“The suffering and death of Ms Piang should never have happened. Abuse is abhorrent, whoever the victims are.

When it involves foreign domestic workers, all the more we have to act,” she wrote.

Online users have asked after reading the court reports in the media why Piang’s condition was not picked up by a clinic when she was there to get treatment about two months before she died.

The doctor had noticed then that she had bruises around both eye sockets, both cheeks and a burn on her arm.

Piang died on July 26 in 2016 at a frail 24kg, having been assaulted over a span of about five hours before that.

On Tuesday in the High Court, Gaiyathiri, 40, pleaded guilty to 28 charges, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing hurt or grievous hurt to Piang.

Gaiyathiri’s husband, Kevin Chelvam, 42, is a police staff sergeant who has been suspended from service since Aug 8 in 2016.

He is charged with voluntarily causing hurt to Piang, giving false information to a police investigator and removing evidence in the form of a closed-circuit television system, among others.

Gaiyathiri’s mother Prema S Naraynasamy, 61, is facing a total of 49 charges.

‘Nothing adverse’ flagged during medical exam

MOM said yesterday that Piang had attended the mandatory Settling-in-Programme for foreign domestic workers, shortly after arriving in Singapore on May 25 in 2015.

She began working for Chelvam and Gaiyathiri a few days later on May 28. It was her first time working in Singapore and Chelvam was her first employer.

In January 2016, Piang attended her half-yearly medical examination and passed it. She visited the same doctor again in May that year for a runny nose, cough and swelling on her legs.

“Nothing adverse was flagged to the authorities’ attention on either occasion,” MOM said.

While Chelvam had provided feedback to the employment agent that there were communication problems and work performance issues in the first six months of Piang’s employment, he did not take up various offers by the agent to replace Piang.”

During this period, the employment agent had spoken to Piang on two different occasions but did not pick up on any issues,” MOM added.

The ministry said that it has ensured a full insurance payout to Piang’s next-of-kin, while the Centre for Domestic Employees has made a donation to her family and facilitated her brother’s visit to Singapore. 

Safeguards to prevent abuse 

MOM said that it has existing safeguards in place to prevent foreign domestic worker abuse, including requiring all first-time maids to go through the Settling-in-Programme, which informs them of the rights and responsibilities and conditions of their employment.

First-time employers are briefed on their responsibilities through the Employers Orientation Programme, it said.

The maids who are assessed to need more support are interviewed by the Centre for Domestic Employees in their native languages.

They have to attend the half-yearly medical examination and doctors are informed to immediately refer workers with signs of abuse to MOM or the police for help.

“MOM will intensify our efforts to reach out to and interview all new foreign domestic workers about their well-being, and also engage with healthcare providers to see how we can support them to identify cases of possible abuse.”

It urged members of the public to reach out to the Centre for Domestic Employees or the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training if they are aware of ill-treatment of these workers.

The workers themselves should also call the MOM helpline at 1800 339 5505 to speak to an officer.

In her Facebook post, Teo noted that Piang worked in Singapore for less than a year and was examined by doctors on at least two occasions. Her employment agency also spoke with her on two separate occasions. 

“Sadly, on none of these occasions were signs of her distress picked up. As a community of support to foreign domestic workers, we have to do better,” she said.She also said that her ministry’s review of protective measures for maids will continue. 

“These would include the threshold for blacklisting errant employers, as well as improving measures to detect abuse,” she added.”There’s no place for foreign domestic worker abuse in Singapore. Let’s put an end to it.”

‘Let them live away from employers’ homes’

Responding to the case it described as “horrific”, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) put up a statement on its website yesterday to say that while there are existing interview mechanisms for first-time domestic workers, these checks should be done consistently, in the absence of employers, for all domestic workers.

The non-profit that works to support and enhance the welfare of migrant workers said that it has been advocating for domestic workers to be allowed to live outside their employers’ residences. 

“A live-out option will make them less vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse, and help regulate their working hours.”

Maids are excluded from the Employment Act, which regulates overtime pay, working hours and rest days. Allowing domestic workers to live out of their employers homes will assist in the enforcement of the Act, it said.

Although a weekly day off was legislated in 2012, the law allows employers to pay workers in lieu. Guaranteeing weekly rest days in law will reduce domestic workers’ susceptibility to abuse, by facilitating timely recourse to help. 

“Domestic workers are recognised by our criminal law as vulnerable victims. Their abusers face enhanced punishments. 

“However, by that time, the domestic worker would have already been subject to the abuse, with serious and often long-term impact on her physical and mental well-being. 

“While accountability and punishment are important, we must do more to protect domestic workers, with strong legislation and pre-emptive measures,” Home said. — TODAY

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