UBC Graduate Research

Identifying work-related stressors and abuses and assessing their impact on the health of migrant domestic workers in Singapore. Wong, Angela


The link between the nature of domestic work and the negative impact it has on the health of migrant domestic workers is generally neglected in research especially in the context of Singapore. With increasing reports on employer abuse against migrant domestic workers (MDWs) in Singapore’s media, it is becoming more evident that such a link does exist. More research is therefore required in the neglected area of the impact that work-related stressors and abuse have on the physical and mental well-being of MDWs in Singapore. Our explorative study aims to fill this gap. The objectives of our study were to identify the common work-related stressors and abuses facing migrant domestic workers in Singapore, and how they impact the health of MDWs. The key questions asked were: 1) What are the stressors facing migrant domestic workers when working in Singapore? 2) What effects do the work-related stressors and abuses have on the physical and mental wellbeing of migrant domestic workers? 3) What mechanisms do they use to cope with health-related problems? 4) What are the social support structures available to them and how do the domestic workers perceive their effectiveness? From our findings, the most common forms of work-related stressors and abuses included being overworked, denial of rest days, restrictions in movement and communication, food deprivation, and verbal and emotional abuse. As a result of working under these conditions, physical ailments such as body pain and aches, headaches, gastric problems, and weight loss developed for the majority of our participants. Symptoms of mental illness such as high levels of anxiety, stress, loneliness, and sadness were also significant health concerns. Although employers are responsible for their migrant domestic worker’s well-being, we found that if the employer refuses to fulfil his/her obligations, 5 migrant domestic workers are left with very few options in obtaining medical assistance for physical and emotional ailments. Without access to medical help then, migrant domestic workers must develop mechanisms to cope with their health problem, which in turn, renders them highly vulnerable to developing further health complications. This report is based on several months of research conducted in Singapore. We held a total of 15 focus group discussions (FGDs) with 58 migrant domestic workers who were victims of employer or agent abuse during their employment in Singapore. The FGDs were conducted at the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics’ (H.O.M.E.) shelter between July and August of 2010. All our participants will remain anonymous in order to protect their identity.

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