Askmelah's Note: As of 2011, there are curently 201,000 maids working in Singapore. Some of the third world mentality of some employers here (PRs and foreigners included) include:
- Maid abuse: reported cases of maid has to wake up at 5am, work more than 18-20hrs, work at two households or more, given only 1 meal per day or leftover food, non payment of salary, physical abuse (which is liable for imprisonment by law). Some even asked their maids to clean the windows in a unsafe manner resulting quite a few maids fell to their death! (this sad situation has been greatly reduced with the introduction of tough law against the employers and education to maids). This category is by far the worst.
- One or no day off per month: Reasons cited by employers include possible mixed with the wrong company, pregnancy etc (what if our own employers do that to us?)
- No proper accommodation and privacy: no proper room or cupboard for the maid. Some asks their maids to sleep in the hall. Some slightly lucky ones will sleep in the small storeroom with no windows.
- Allow their children to abuse their maid. This category includes kids ordering maid around, not punished by parents when the kids verbally abuse their maids or misbehave etc.
- Heard of some country clubs and condo management banning maids from entering the swimming pools as if they are not humans (there was no apartheid even when the British ruled Singapore)?
- Heard of cases of employers deducting maids salary for breaking things?
While some maids (or Foreign Domestic Workers as the Government like to them) are no saint either who broke the trust of their employers, we should refrain from treating all maids like slaves or anything less than a human being. For most maids, when you treat them nice with decency, the chance of them behaving will be much higher than otherwise.
Lastly the Government in particular the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) should shoulder part of the blame as well. While it collects a huge recurring sum (in the hundreds from each maid each month) from every maid that works in Singapore, it does very little to look into the welfare of the maids. The MOM should do surprise sample checks for example to ensure that the maids are not mistreated by their employers. MOM also should not stoop so low in passing the burden of policing to the employers such as forfeit the employers' SGD 5000 security bonds when their maids got pregnant (which has since been changed in Jan 2010) or if the maids run away to work elsewhere or elope with her lover. The levies collected should also be used for sending the maids home such as those who are jailed or pregnant, rather than passing the bucks to the employers (see article More proactive reviews of maid policies needed below). It will certainly helps in fostering a more trusting relationship between maids and employers here. The levies collected should not be a revenue-generating income for the Government, do some good please for the maids who work their guts here, the least a decent Government here can do for them.
[Updated 5 Dec 2011: Kudos to MOM for the following proactive changes: In place of the English entry test, a new mandatory Settling-In Programme (SIP) will be rolled out by middle of next year]
The report below from The Straits Times highlighted one such sad case, the employer - a Singaporean husband and a Taiwanese wife - has been alleged not giving door access (a basic right!) to the maid resulting her need to risk her life to escape from the employer. She also accused the employer of asking her to start work at 5am and only given one meal of leftover food. It is still unknown to say who is guilty but such cases have been reported time and again. Some among us are truly ugly Singaporeans.
[Updated Oct 2011] Extracted from source:
"Today's maid from the Philippines or Indonesia is no longer the same as older ones who came in the 70s or 80s. She is generally better schooled, has higher ambitions and is probably less deferential to orders rudely given. The agency representative said: "You can't work her like you could her mother!"
Dwindling supply is, however, not the only worry. For years, they have been losing the competitive edge against Hong Kong and Taiwan employers because of a special S$345 (US$265) monthly levy they need to pay for hiring a maid. This means that, although the monthly costs add up about the same for the three countries, the maid in Singapore takes home only half of what she gets elsewhere.
Effectively, a maid who works in Hong Kong and Taiwan has a much higher take-home pay because the tax is minimal." (Askmelah's Note: with the standard of living in Hong Kong and Taiwan about 20-30% higher than Singapore, the effective cost of hiring a maid is actually higher in the case of Singapore mainly attributable to the Government's maid levy)
Making ground rules clear is key
Source: Todayonline Jun 27, 2011
AS EMPLOYERS, many Singaporeans cite personal reasons to deny their helpers a day to be out with friends. But if our employers cite personal reasons to keep us on overtime every day, we would complain or threaten to resign.
My helper is given one day off each week. This seems a big deal to many maids living nearby, as though I am the only Singaporean doing so. I make the ground rules clear to my helper, am concerned for her but do not intrude into her personal life.
Maids are adults and if we entrust our food and family to them, why do we not trust them? The contract with an employer is one where they are required to discharge certain household duties. Their private lives are none of our business. If they get into trouble, the contract is terminated.
We worry about how they would change when they mix with their friends and things which have yet to happen. Reports often highlight maids in trouble and, over time, this has created a negative bias in us.
But there are maids who have been working for the same employer for years. One I know has been with the same employer for 21 years. Many others for years.
Denying them of a day off a week to let their hair down may in effect create more problems for employers.
Some maids may not want weekends off as it means having less savings. But the issue of compensation should not be enforced on them.
Since there are families who may really need extra help during weekends, perhaps the Ministry of Manpower could consider allowing maids to work part time.
Why is it that when it comes to discussing rest days for maids, the first thing employers think of is, "my maid will learn bad things from her friends" or "my maid will become pregnant"? While such things do happen, I do not agree that we should generalise with every domestic helper.
There are many wholesome activities maids do on their rest days. Some have picnics in the park, some go to Internet cafes to chat on the webcam with their family back home, some get their hair done. Meeting their friends for lunch or dinner is part and parcel of socialising.
What gives employers the right to withhold such basic rights? Would employers themselves work seven-day weeks and still have their own bosses restrict them from meeting friends or communicating on their mobile phones?
It is naive to believe that a person would remain good if kept at home every day. I have a neighbour whose maid was not even allowed to go to the neighbourhood minimart alone. A year into her contract, during her routine medical check-up, she was found to be pregnant!
The best thing to do is to get close to your maid, know who her friends are and know about her movements as much as possible. But no one can work seven days a week for two whole years and still remain sane. If employers want a safer environment especially when their maid is employed to look after young children, my advice is, treat her well and with respect like a fellow human-being.
More proactive reviews of maid policies needed
Source: The Straits Times Jul 5, 2011
THE Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) reply ('$5,000 security bond not forfeited if maids get pregnant'; June 25) to Forum letters stated that the ministry has removed employers' liability if the maid gets pregnant or breaches other Work Permit conditions that relate to her own behaviour.
If this is so, it is confusing that the onus is placed on the employer to locate the missing maid and when found, the employer is financially penalised.
The security bond, therefore, should not be affected if a maid absconds. Common sense dictates that no maid would abscond if she has grievances which can be addressed by the appropriate authorities.
The expenses for locating missing maids should be paid out from the levy collected by the Government.
After all, according to MOM, the ministry forfeited an average of 65 security bonds for maids each year between 2005 and last year.
Should the missing maids be found eventually, those maids, and not their employers, should be accountable for their own repatriation. Why are employers paying for the irresponsible behaviour of their maids?
Second, a maid who is homesick and wishes to go home should pay her own fare.
Furthermore, if a maid has committed a criminal offence such as theft, or abuse of the elderly or infants, the burden of repatriation should not fall on the employer. Repatriation expense should be paid out from the accumulated levies collected.
How can employers be expected to comply with a policy that is made contradictory by policymakers? When we are constantly reminded to be proactive, it means having the foresight to anticipate what could happen in the future.
There should be half-yearly reviews of government policies when unfavourable feedback from the public is received rather than acting in hindsight after a mishap and blaming it as an isolated case or unforeseen misfortune.
Alice Cheah (Ms)
Other related links:
- Why maids have become indispensable in Singapore
- Employer gets 9-month jail term for burning maid with iron
- Housewife sentenced to 13 months in jail for abusing -abusing her Indonesian maid for more than four months resulting in an ear deformity.
- Too many foreign maids died unnecessarily