An alarming number of foreign maids ran away from their employers' homes in 2010 alone.
A Straits Times check with embassies and foreign workers showed that at least 4,000 had run away from their employers' homes last year.
The most common complaints heard were homesickness, being overworked, or bosses who scolded them as well as being unpaid for their work. The majority had worked in Singapore for less than six months and were yet to receive a regular salary since they had to repay loans of up to 11 months' salary to employers.
Most of the runaway maids were Indonesians, according to statistics from the Philippine and Indonesian embassies, and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), a charity that runs a shelter for migrant workers.
The Indonesian Embassy said about 2,530 runaway maids sought refuge at the embassy last year, up from around 2,030 in 2009. In the first five weeks of this year, another 230 women turned up.
At the Philippines Embassy, the number fell slightly from 630 in 2009 to around 570 last year, with fewer new Filipino maids arriving to work here.
In the process of employing a foreign maid, employers will pay a maid's 'placement fees' to cover the debt she has incurred getting to Singapore to work. Indonesian Embassy spokesman Mr Fahmi Aris Innayah said that this sum is now equivalent to a maid's pay for 11 months. It was about three months' pay a decade ago.
This means a maid on a two-year contract does not receive more than $10 or $20 a month for up to 11 months. Sometimes, she may not even get anything at all.
In cases involving physical abuse, the police will be informed, while the Ministry of Manpower is alerted of cases of unfair treatment and salary disputes.
Embassy officials say many of the women's complaints cannot be proven and some are even found to be false. But it is rare for the women to return to their employers. About 70 per cent are repatriated and the rest move to new employers.