Maid In Singapore


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.

Who says domestic helpers are overworked?

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)

More days off may not be in maids’ interest

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

Spare a thought for working mums

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)

13 Replies to “Maid In Singapore”

  1. I love all the silly assumptions made by folks, who decided that they are more deserving of certain rights, but not another human being.

  2. I am with you Ian, Hong Kong has a mandatory 1 day a week of policy for maids, and rightly so. Are we not a sophisticated enough society to understand all workers (including the FT) need at least one day a week for there own enjoyment, endeavors and recreation. Do we forget that maids and construction workers are people too, with dreams and ambitions?

    the red highlights make me seethe as well!

    1. Scott, perhaps now you’ll see why I believe in nature and nurture of the Singaporean mindset, with a greater weight on the former :D.

  3. I absolutely agree – I am totally amazed at the comments about how couples cannot cope with maids having 1 day off a week.

    I sympathise with people who have elderly parents to care for, but the number of times I see parents out and about with their children and who is in the water park with the children? …the maid…who is in the payground with the children?…the maid…the maid in many cases is the surrogate parent.
    Its about time we started talking about the success stories of having a helper – the ones who are responsible, who dont get into trouble and who are caring to those we care most about and we should be grateful that we live in a country that allows the dream of having extra help to become a reality unlike many other countries.

    I agree that the Ministry of Manpower should revise and make adjustments to the workers levy and security bond to make it easier for people to compensate their helpers and allow for that one day off. In return, there should be a re-balancing so that should maids be errant, the are repurcussions to them personally.
    The relashionship between Goverment/ maid/ employer should be balanced so its one of win win.

    1. You’re right – today the system penalizes employers for the errors of their maids (pregnancy and such). What I do wonder is = Do many of the households who employ maids today really need one? Barring elderly folks, special needs children, disabled folks, I personally don’t see the need for a maid in a HDB flat kinda family. Washing machines and vacuum cleaners already take up most of the burden that households used to face.

  4. Ian, and fellow commentors, the issue here, for me, isn’t fairness nor human rights. It is about a reasonable return on investment. How so? If an employer and the maid enter into an transaction where employer demands that the maid works on her day off, and the maid agrees but demands compensation of $x more, and the employer is willing to pay $x, done deal. Quid pro quo. Both parties are satisfied, and the market prevails. No need for government or human rights groups intervention. And the forum pages can be dedicated to more meaningful debate like whether Tony Tan is suitable for presidency.

    1. Gary, your assumption is that that discussion on the transaction will automatically take place with every employer/maid relationship here. Obviously, it’s not happening. Singaporeans need legislation for every little thing or else they don’t know their left from their right.

      Like so many people have pointed out – what if your own boss doesn’t give you the weekend off from the office? See it from that perspective and ask whether it’s about human rights or ROI. I would say your boss’s ROI actually drops because your morale and productivity drops as a result. Once people start applying standard business principles to the maid issue, it’s even clearer what needs to be done.

      1. Ok, fair point about the weekend off. And I agree with business principles being applied. So for instance, I know that aircraft technicians get paid a multiple of their manhour rate if they work OT/on weekends/on PH etc. And there are those that WILLINGLY sacrifice all that so that they can earn the extra wage. I know an aircraft technician who drives a souped-up WRX because of this. So yes, if legislation dictates that if an employer has to pay additional wage if he/she demands that the maid work seven days a week, and both parties agree this arrangement, then it ceases to become a human rights issue. Different from my boss not giving me the weekend off, since I am UNWILLING to put in the extra hours. But if my boss tells me I’ll make an extra grand should I choose to work weekends, who knows, I just might.

        1. Gary, again I need to point out is that, the difference is that you are already entitled to the weekend off. Not maids.

          Your analogies are correct for everyone except maids in their current situation today. If you are unwilling to work the weekend, so be it. Tell that to a maid who is unwilling to work on a Sunday and her boss starts yelling at her.

          You have a choice, many of them don’t. And they won’t save up enough for a WRX either.

          1. So let’s play policymaker. If the state now mandates that every maid is entitled to one day off, BUT, the employer has the right to remove that entitlement if he is able to replace it with monetary compensation, the amount of which is to be decided between employer and maid. If no agreement can be reached, the maid gets to keep her entitlement to a day off.

            What I just described above is actually practised by some agencies, and the government takes a laissez-faire approach to its implementation. So if it were now enforced by law (such that non-compliance is punishable by law, for either employer or maid) would such a policy work?

          2. It would if he has a very good reason. If I don’t like the reason, I can choose not to work for him. That’s why people quit their jobs. Similarly, maids can choose not to work here. Go work in HK.

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