We are all too aware of how certain employers of foreign domestic workers (FDW) faced tragedy when seemingly innocuous problems spiral into fatal accidents and abuse. Improper conflict resolution with your FDW can create not only tense environments at home but can also lend itself to financial difficulties resulting from termination, rehiring and even legal fees. If you find yourself frustrated with your relationship with your FDW, there are several conflict resolution tactics you can take to take to prevent the costly financial ramifications that can follow a broken employment relationship.
Proactive Communication Can Prevent Costly Resolutions
One of the most common causes of escalated complaints is poor communication, whether due to language barriers, differences in culture or different expectations. Take for example, a domestic worker who put sleeping pills in a family's breakfast because she was afraid of her employer's temperment. This could have been avoided if both sides took proactive measures and had an open line of communication from the beginning (although such things are never guaranteed). Proactive communication measures are an oft overlooked but valuable tool to prevent perceived injustices from becoming run away cases or embassy complaints.
As a starter, you can consider outlining your FDW's tasks on paper in clear language she can understand and establishing your expectations for each task. In the event of a language barrier, you can use translation services like Google Translate to prevent misunderstandings. It may even be worthwhile to learn a few common phrases in your FDW's language to foster trust and show willingness for collaboration and compromise. Furthermore, utilising empathy can be one of the best ways to prevent resentment on your end while also understanding why your domestic worker didn't perform up to standard or why she acts in certain ways. While it's perfectly normal that emotions may flare up in certain situations, there are ways to keep emotions under control through asking questions, evaluating the type of conflict and openly acknowledging what you are feeling. A proactive way of communicating can foster a productive managing environment and prevent conflicts from escalating in the future.
Enlist the Help of Mediation Services
While the first step should always be discussing problems with your worker directly, there may be times when you feel like you need outside help—especially if your domestic worker has filed a complaint. Mediation is one such form of outside help that is relatively affordable while still providing qualified and professional help. There are several resources available in Singapore that offer professional mediation services, such as pro-bono mediation services offered through the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training. If you feel like FDW NGO's are biased, you can try outside services such as the Singapore Mediation Centre or the Law and Society Mediation Scheme. These services cost around a few hundred dollars, but they will nonetheless result in a smaller dent in your wallet than if you were to start a court case or terminate your worker and spend several thousand dollars to rehire a new one. However, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will be responsible for mediating the conflict if your domestic worker filed a complaint with them.
Reach Out to the Domestic Employment Agency for Help
Reaching out to your foreign worker's employment agency can be a good way to help resolve disputes if legal proceedings aren't your cup of tea. Provided your FDW's employment agency is reputable and provides after-employment services, opting to speak to someone who has experience managing FDW-employer relationships can be a good way to solve frustrating communication problems. In fact, some employment agencies offer not only customer care services but also services like cancelling your FDW's work permit for cases when conflict resolution attempts have been unsuccessful.
Terminate Employment Before the Relationship Becomes Unmanageable
Sometimes the best way to resolve conflict is to end it completely (i.e. conflict avoidance). While this isn't the best way to de-escalate FDW conflicts because of its financial impact, termination can nip a non-recoverable and toxic relationship in the bud. For instance, simply terminating your worker's contract for petty crimes such as pocket change stealing or risky work behavior (especially if communication has repeatedly failed) will be cheaper and less stressful than resorting to emotionally charged reactions that can escalate to litigation. This is because in these cases, your losses may not be high enough to justify the lengthy court process. However, you should know that you will be responsible for bearing the cost of repatriating your domestic worker, as your FDW insurance will only cover expatriation for emergency medical reasons.
Please note that it is best to notify the MInistry of Manpower and the police as soon as possible in the event your worker has committed a serious offense.
Financial Ramifications of Unsuitable Conflict Resolution
Accumulated conflicts that don't get resolved properly may lead to court cases, abuse, getting barred from hiring domestic help in the future and in extreme cases, jail time. Whether the employer withholds salary, abuses the worker to try to change the her behavior or the domestic worker starts abusing family members or runs away because of perceived injustices, the employer will almost always end up with some kind of financial loss. For instance, you will still be responsible for re-hiring fees and other legal fees even if you were the victim. On the other hand, employers who are at fault will have to pay a potential MOM security bond breach of S$5,000, repatriation expenses, thousands of dollars in legal fees (if you do not qualify to get pro bono lawyer services) and tens of thousands of dollars in fines if you are found to be guilty.
It is undoubtedly frustrating when the employee you hired is not living up to your expectations, especially when you feel like you have to do almost all of the work involved in resolving conflicts. However, as the employer you generally have more resources available to you in addition to already being in a position of power. If you are willing to invest a little to focus on preventing conflicts, there are courses your domestic worker can attend that will teach her language skills, listening skills and domestic care techniques. These courses can help share with her the responsibility of learning effective communication and proper conflict resolution to promote a fruitful working environment.