The news topic of this week appears to be whether maids should get a legislated day of rest every week. Now I’ll make it clear that I’ve never employed a full-time maid (for my own household), and deliberately so. For the past few years, we’ve relied on a part-time maid who comes in once a week and now that she’s gone home, I’m still mopping the floor like I did when I was 10 years old. I simply don’t want another stranger staying in my house nor deal with her various issues.
That said, a lot of other Singaporean families do employ maids for various reasons. There’s nothing wrong with that, even though it does lead to various side effects like an over-reliance on maids, kids who grow up ordering their maids around, and army boys who can’t carry their own bags. I can sympathize with families with sick elderly folks who need the help of a maid for daily hygiene or exercise, and that is where an extra pair of hands really help.
It is inevitable that the huge population of maids in Singapore will lead to cases where maids get pregnant, work illegally or get into other sorts of trouble. Often, the employer has to bear the frustration of sending the maid home and paying additional money to hire a replacement.
And at the same time, there are many employers who simply don’t know how to manage another person in the house. Too often, we read about maid abuse cases in our media, and despite all the gasps and looks of horror from the audience, the abuse continues to happen whether it is in rich educated households or needy ones.
And you don’t really know if you’ve hired a good or bad worker. We had plenty of trouble with a maid who was hired to look after my mum in her final years, and we were so glad to be rid of her. But I’ve also seen friends who have hired really good people as maids, and saw strong relationships built up over the years.
No matter what, I fully back the proposal for a rest day for maids. As employers, we need to treat our employees the way we want to be treated ourselves. Do unto others, you know.
What strengthened my belief even more are the following letters written to ST Forum in the past few days, arguing why maids shouldn’t be given a day off. I’ve highlighted the sentences that made me seethe, and if you’re an intelligent, un-self-centred, gracious person, you’d immediately understand why. I don’t need to go on a rant with the obvious.
The letter writers have their own perspective on things, but I have only this to say to them – put yourself in the shoes of your own maid before you pen these words down. And no, the pathetic fertility rate has nothing to do with whether your maid has a day off or not.
IT IS true that maids should not be treated differently from other workers, and they need rest (‘Consider law to give maids a day off every week: Halimah’; Monday). But do they really need one weekly day off for that? Do they not rest in the course of their work every day?
My current maid has a day off once a month. Every time she comes back from her outings, she appears even more tired and listless, and needs to recuperate from her outing. When she is not around, both my husband and I, who are teachers, have to juggle with the care of our toddlers (two and three years old), besides catching up with whatever work we have not completed in the week.
Singaporeans work very long hours too and while we do not work officially on weekends, many of us catch up with work on weekday evenings and weekends.
My maid has more than enough time to rest daily, when the kids are napping or when my older one is in kindergarten. My maid is the one who goes to bed by nine every night and my husband and I are the ones who are still up way beyond nine to tuck in our children and catch up with school work.
Are maids really that overworked? The many maids congregating and chatting away happily at my condominium on weekdays present a different picture.
My previous maid met her boyfriend on her day off and even while we were at work. I have also heard of other maids doing part-time work on their days off.
The slew of social problems that will result from a weekly day off is unthinkable.
And think of those taking care of old and disabled people. It will not be easy for someone else to take over their duties when they take their day off.
I urge the Government to consider carefully the many factors at play and the consequences of legislating a day off for maids.
Low Ai Choo (Madam)
I REFER to the proposal by Madam Halimah Yacob, Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports, to make it mandatory to give maids a day off every week (‘Consider law to give maids a day off every week: Halimah’; Monday).
As much as employers like myself will like to give our maids a day off per week, we are concerned that it may actually not be in their interest. With four days off a month, they will incur more expenses. Many maids who have a day off a week end up not only sending less money home, and having little or no savings, but also incur debts by borrowing from other maids to cover expenses.
They may also become resentful that their pay is not able to pay for their entertainment on these days off.
Some maids may also work illegally on their days off. This puts them at risk of abuse from those who employ them illegally and also put their legal employers at risk with the law.
Sng Choon Kwee
I REFER to Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob’s call for legislating a weekly day off for domestic helpers (‘Consider law to give maids a day off every week: Halimah’; Monday).
I urge Madam Halimah to look at the issue from the perspective of an ordinary, Singaporean working mother.
As a mother of a preschooler and an infant, having a domestic helper is probably the best solution for me as I would like to make full use of my hard-earned degree, remain in the competitive workforce and contribute to the nation’s economic growth while supporting the Government’s call to have more babies. Without a domestic helper to look after the children, one of the parents will have to stay at home.
Amid soaring inflation, rocketing housing prices and a dipping total fertility rate, is it appropriate to consider a weekly day off for domestic helpers at this juncture? If the Government would like to hear more babies cry, the answer is a clear no.
Moreover, does having a weekly day off ease the stress and overworking problems faced by domestic helpers? They may have to complete their chores before or after their day off. Essentially, they are left with less time to do the same chores. In this case, a weekly day off seems to worsen the problem.
Instead, inculcating a different mindset that looks at domestic helpers as part of the family may help. When the domestic helper is regarded as part of the family, she feels more comfortable and less likely to be stressed. Do we overwork our family members? No.
With many Singaporean households relying on domestic helpers to keep the house running, any change in the existing legislation is going to affect a large number of people.
It is not assumptive to conclude that a weekly day off for domestic helpers will have a negative impact on the fertility rate and the number of mothers in the workforce.
Fu Sze Sze (Madam)