Many Filipino women who have to leave home to work overseas become financially vulnerable, as they are among the most indebted workers in Singapore. According to the Singaporean government, around 28,000 foreign domestic workers had borrowed from licensed moneylenders in the first half of 2018. Based on investigations by the Lianhe Wanbao (Singapore), the most indebted group was Filipinos, followed by Indian domestic workers.
The newspaper conducted a few interviews with indebted workers, trying the find out the stories behind their situations.
Lisa, 60, a widowed mother of two sons and a daughter and grandmother to three boys, came to Singapore 15 years ago and has been a domestic worker ever since to support her family.
As her eldest son could barely earn enough to cover daily expenses, Lisa had to help pay for her grandsons’ education, as well as their home mortgage, by sending S$600 (US$435) a month out of her S$850 monthly salary.
However, last October, her foreign employer had to return home, and she was forced to find a new job by paying an employment agency the equivalent of a month’s salary.
She was so strapped for cash that she borrowed S$700 from a moneylender who had been referred to her by one of her compatriot friends. But she needed to keep borrowing, and eventually had to seek help from a church as she realized she would never be able to settle the S$2,000 in debts she had accumulated.
Lisa’s story is only the tip of an iceberg. Quite a number of Filipinos get indebted because relatives have fallen ill, or need operations. Some of them have children who have to pay college tuition.
All of the paper’s interviewees, who have been assisted by church social workers for restructuring their debts, said they dared not take out any more loans. If they have financial difficulties in the future, they will first seek their employers’ assistance. They also now understand that they have to be realistic and realize that they are not capable or responsible for solving all problems back home.
Meanwhile, a survey conducted last month, to which 30 Filipino domestic workers in Singapore responded, found that 43%, or 13 workers to be exact, admitted that they had borrowed for such things as entertainment or dressing up for rest days.
Excessive borrowing was also a result of herd mentality, as everyone around seemed to be taking loans, said Pastor Billy Lee of Blessed Grace Church.
And it is not just moneylenders who get foreign workers into debt. Some companies such as mobile-phone services allow payments by installments, which also fuels domestic workers’ debt burdens.