When your domestic worker suddenly runs away, it is normal to feel a range of emotions from anger to stress. Especially since you are responsible for her whereabouts and safety, and you will end up with significant financial burdens when she suddenly goes missing. However, there are ways you can navigate around this scenario as confusion-free as possible. Below, we discuss some steps you should take if your domestic worker runs away and how to minimize the associated costs.
First, you should take a step back and analyse your options
When you notice something is wrong and your domestic worker can’t be found, you may immediately call the police or go on a manhunt around your neighborhood. However, it may be easier to start with small steps. Try calling your domestic worker to see if she got held up somewhere or if she left without telling anyone—perhaps she is running late on one of her errands. If she fails to pick up, check her room for her belongings. If they're still there, then chances are she'll be back; if they're gone, then your domestic worker ran away and you can start contacting authorities.
Contact your employment agency and review your employment agency's contract
One of the first things you should do is review your domestic worker's employment contract and reacquaint yourself with their refund policies. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) mandates that the employment agency must inform you of their placement fee policy. In some cases, there are are agencies that do not charge a placement fee where you won't be liable, while in others, a runaway domestic worker may result in a full or partial refund. This is good information to have on hand when you speak with the agency to prevent miscommunication or paying unnecessary costs. After you have your information, you can call the employment agency and let them know about your missing foreign domestic worker. They may be able to help locate her at other agencies as well as contact her country's embassy.
Contact various domestic worker NGO's and your worker's embassy
If you hired your domestic worker through an agency, then most likely the agency will contact all the necessary parties to see if they can find her. However, you should also call NGOs such as HOME and her country's embassy to double check. There is a high chance those two places are where she may have gone to. If you go and speak to the people in charge personally, make sure you bring evidence in case your domestic worker wrongfully accuses you of abuse.
Notify the police
If you fail to find your worker within 24 hours, you must call the police and file a report. By doing so, not only are you proving you fulfilled your search duties to the MOM, but you also get professional help in locating her.
Contact the Ministry of Manpower
You must contact the MOM within 7 days of your worker being missing, which can be done by cancelling her work permit. From that point on, you have one month to find your worker and repatriate her. If you don't repatriate her within one month, you will forfeit half of your security bond (S$2,500). If you have the waiver of counter indemnity add-on to your maid insurance, you will only be liable for whatever your agreement is with your insurer, usually S$250. If you can not find her within 3 months, you will risk losing the entirety of the bond. However, if you do find her within 3 months, you can appeal to the MOM for a bond refund.
Accept the costs but find ways to minimise them
Regardless of whether you find your domestic worker, you will incur several expenses. These include repatriating her in the event you do find her, paying the leftover placement fees and paying for a replacement domestic worker. While it may feel unfair to pay these fees for someone you had a falling out with, the Ministry of Manpower mandated this so there wouldn't be a tax burden on Singapore's citizens. Additionally, there are ways you can minimise your cost burden and move on to better alternatives as soon as possible.
For instance, you can try looking for plane tickets on budget/discount travel sites, and since you have a month's window, you can save by purchasing a flexible date ticket. Additionally, when you buy maid insurance, you can purchase a plan with a generous refund policy and consider getting the waiver of counter-indemnity option. This will save you refund fees as well as reduce your bond liability to S$250. You can also find a maid agency that either has free replacement services, refunds for placement fees or doesn't charge any in the first place. You should make sure you know what your contract is in regards to the agency housing her and for how long you are liable to pay for her accommodations there as well.
What you can do to prevent runaways
While there's no surefire way to prevent your domestic worker from running away, you can take measures to minimise the risk of it happening to you. You start by holding your end of the employment bargain by treating her with respect, minimising miscommunication, giving her proper food and accommodation and paying her wages on time. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly why domestic workers run away. Some people believe foreign domestic workers simply do not wish to work or have exaggerated their skills while underestimating their workloads. Other people voice concerns about domestic workers coming to Singapore to make a quick buck before running away, knowing their repatriation fees will be paid for. At the same time, more concrete evidence suggests a lot of domestic workers run away due to abuse. Whatever the reasons are, if you take precautions and know what to do in the event a runaway happens, you can minimise the stress and confusion that comes along with it.