Familization of Indonesian Domestic Workers in Singapore

  • Marcus Yu Lung Chiu
Part of the Series in Asian Labor and Welfare Policies book series (Series in Asian Labor and Welfare Policies)


Schemes introducing foreign domestic workers (FDWs) to Singapore on a large scale are put in place only after World War II. This is a necessity, rather than a luxury, when the need for economic development requires the labor participation of local women. The new FDWs are mostly women, who work in households to help with caregiving and chores; they are hired and paid on contract terms, yet they often become part of the family. This new relationship is intriguing because it is not based on any sort of blood tie; rather, it is a fixed-term contractual arrangement involving monetary reward. On the other hand, this new “family member” has little power to negotiate about the work that they do. This chapter reports on a survey study involving 352 Indonesian FDWs in Singapore. The findings support a new concept called “familization” that allows us to make sense of this new phenomenon. It will perhaps give insights into how a contractual relationship as such can become a mutually satisfying experience for both the employing family and their new family member.



This chapter is based on a survey study supported by the Research Excellence Award Grant of ODPRT, National University of Singapore. I am grateful to the several Indonesian student helpers who helped out in the translation and the data collection, and the many Indonesian FWDs who generously provided the data.


  1. Ang, Y. 2010. “Who’s Really Caring for Singapore’s Elderly?” The Straits Times, May 19.Google Scholar
  2. BNP2TKI. 2013. Penempatan dan Perlindungan Tenaga Kerja Indonesia Tahun 2013 (Placement and Protection of Indonesian workers in 2013). Retrieved from
  3. Boehm, L.K. 2003. “Review of Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence.” Journal of American Ethnic History 22(3): 99–101.Google Scholar
  4. Brickell, K., and S.A.B. Yeoh. 2014. “Editorial. Geographies of Domestic Life: ‘Householding’ in Transition in East and Southeast Asia.” Geoforum 51 (1): 259–261.Google Scholar
  5. Cha-Ly. 2009. The Use of Public Space by Foreign Female Domestic Workers in Globalizing Asian Cities. Retrieved from
  6. Chang, M.C. 2014. “More Maids Say They Do Not Get Enough to Eat.” AsiaOne. Retrieved from
  7. CNN. 2015. “Indonesia Maid Ban Won’t Work in Mideast, Migrant Groups Say.” Retrieved from
  8. Braithwaite, D.O., B.W. Bach, L.A. Baxter, R. DiVerniero, J.R. Hammonds, A.M. Hosek, E.K. Willer, and B.M. Wolf. 2010. “Constructing Family: A Typology of Voluntary Kin.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 27 (3): 388–407.Google Scholar
  9. HOME. 2015. Home Sweet Home? Work, Life and Well-being of Foreign Domestic W orkers in Singapore. A Research Report. Retrieved from
  10. ILO. n.d. Domestic Workers. Retrieved from
  11. IOM. 2010. Labour Migration from Indonesia: An Overview of Indonesian Migration to Selected Destinations in Asia and the Middle East. Retrieved from Jakarta, Indonesia:
  12. Karner, T.X. 1998. “Professional Caring: Homecare Workers as Fictive Kin.” Journal of Aging Studies 12 (1): 69–82.Google Scholar
  13. Lan, P.C. 2002. “Subcontracting Filial Piety: Elder Care in Ethnic Chinese Immigration Families in California.” Journal of Family Issues 23 (7): 812–835.Google Scholar
  14. Lan, P.C. 2003. “Negotiating Social Boundaries and Private Zones: The Micropolitics of Employing Migrant Domestic Workers.” Oxford Journals 50 (4): 525–549.Google Scholar
  15. Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. n.d.. Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore: Social and Historical Perspectives. Retrieved from
  16. Ministry of Manpower. 2015. Foreign Workforce Numbers. Retrieved from
  17. Ministry of Manpower. 2016. Rest Days and Well-being for Foreign Domestic Worker. Retrieved from
  18. Quartz. 2013. Indonesia Wants to Stop Exporting Its Maids to the Rest of the World. Retrieved from
  19. Seow, J. 2015. “Courts See More Cases of Maids Being Abused.” The Straits Times. Retrieved from
  20. Strong Eagle. 2005. Birthday Gift for Maid. Retrieved from
  21. Tan, A. 2014. “New Rules for Hiring Myanmar Maids Cover Minimum Monthly Wage, Day Off.” The Straits Times. Retrieved from
  22. Wong, D. 1996. “Foreign Domestic Workers in Singapore.” Asian and Pacific Migration Journal 5 (1): 117–138.Google Scholar
  23. World Bank. 2015. Migration and Remittances Recent Developments and Outlook. Retrieved from
  24. Yeoh, B.S., and S. Huang. (2010). “Transnational Domestic Workers and the Negotiation of Mobility and Work Practices in Singapore’s Home-Spaces.” Mobilities 5 (2), 219–236.Google Scholar
  25. Yeoh, S.A.B., and S.L.S Huang. 2005. Asian Women as Transnational Domestic Workers. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish.Google Scholar
  26. Yeoh, S.A.B., and W. Lin. 2012. Rapid growth in Singapore’s immigrant population brings policy challenges. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcus Yu Lung Chiu
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Applied Social SciencesCity University of Hong KongHong KongChina

Personalised recommendations