The decision to scrap English entry tests for domestic workers seeking jobs in Singapore has been greeted with caution and even dismay in Indonesia, where officials had hoped instead to change how the test was administered.
Rieke Dyah Pitaloka, a member of House of Representatives Commission XI, which oversees labor affairs, said on Monday that letting workers go to Singapore without adequate language skills was risky. Indonesia and Singapore do not have a formal agreement governing the treatment and rights of domestic workers.
“It’s absolutely a setback,” she told the Jakarta Globe.
“Lax requirements will only cause problems, because [poor skills in] language can lead to poor communication between employers and employees.”
She stressed that 92 percent of disputes involving Indonesian domestic workers in the city-state between January and July this year had stemmed from a lack of language skills.
Singaporean Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-jin had said on Sunday that the government would scrap the English entry test for maids which was first required in 2005, the Straits Times reported.
In lieu of the test, Tan said, Singapore would introduce a “settling-in program” by the middle of next year. The proposed program will include the current half-day Safety Awareness Course.
In a meeting with Singaporean manpower officials in August, Indonesian officials had recommended that aspiring domestic workers be allowed to take the written English test in their home country to avoid unnecessary travel and costs.
Anis Hidayah, executive director of the group Migrant Care, said phasing out the test was good news in a way, given the pressure it put on prospective workers.
In June, Sulastri Wardoyo, 26, committed suicide after failing the test three times.
“On the another hand, the English test is actually something that should motivate the government to only send migrant workers who have the requisite language skills,” Anis said on Monday following a meeting with the First Secretary of the Singapore Embassy.
H e added that she felt the wisest policy was the one proposed by Indonesia, which was to move the venue for the English entry test to Indonesia.
Rusdi Basalamah, secretary of the Association of Migrant Worker Service Companies (Apjati), approved of ending the test but said he had expected it to be moved to Indonesia.
“Now that they’re going to end it, the government must prepare our migrant workers so that even without the test, they can still communicate well once over there,” he said.
He added that he doubted the move would lead to an immediate increase in the number of Indonesian migrant workers heading to Singapore, pointing out that Middle Eastern countries were the preferred destination.
“Those who apply to go to Singapore are usually experienced workers who have worked in Hong Kong or Saudi Arabia before,” Rusdi said.