I have long wanted to write about how an increasing number of Singaporeans are depending more on maids than themselves.
While that idea didn't really materialise, a news article caught my attention, in which two non-governmental organisations are proposing to extend maternity coverage to maids under the Employment Act.
I wasn't quite sure how to react. Either we are trying to show our humane side, or we are simply courting trouble.
How many Singapore employers are willing to go through this process? Let me guess: None. In fact, there are no reasons why employers have to put up with these circumstances which are not related to the maids' employment in any manner.
If such a policy is implemented, we may find more maids getting pregnant since they have an avenue to sustain their pregnancies - by fully exploiting the perks, that is.
How are Singaporean families going to cope with the absence of their maids due to maternity leave? For families with sickly aged folk and young children, how can they get on with life when the maid has to absent herself regularly for check-ups? Will we not be slightly concerned that chores will have to be carried out by a pregnant woman?
Let's not forget too, that medical benefits for non-citizens were reduced a short while ago. Hence, maids will have to fork out more to sustain their pregnancies if they are allowed to stay on in Singapore with their work permits. Given the average salaries of maids, will they be able to afford it?
What if the man who impregnated her is unwilling to be responsible for it, and the maid chooses to keep the baby nonetheless? Can they really afford it? If they can't, will Singapore employers be forced to foot the bill?
The variables certainly don't paint a very sweet picture if the Employment Act is indeed tweaked. I am certain that the last thing Singaporean employers want is opening up a doorway that may lead to pre-marital pregnancies and having to provide for the maid's maternity needs. That would be more like a case of employer-turned-caretaker. It just doesn't make sense.
Yet, another part of me asks: Why can't maids carry on with their normal lives? By my definition of 'a normal life', I mean the process of enjoying motherhood just like Singaporean women.
You see, we have been implementing laws to protect expecting mums from unfair treatment by companies. Pregnant women are more or less guaranteed their jobs as long as they meet the minimum requirements under the Employment Act.
Are maids any different from Singaporean women in other professions? Are they not humans too? Do they not deserve the right to start a family too? If employment is secured for expecting mums in other professions, why not maids?
It seems like legalised slavery when maids are denied their maternity perks. Is that few hundred dollars a month sufficient to 'sell their souls' so that they cannot enjoy life in the same way like the families they serve, which are complete?
I feel this is a very difficult decision to make, whether we should extend these perks to maids. There are complex issues that need to be examined very thoroughly. For example:
Maids are only allowed to have a baby with their legal spouse. Maids who are single or not legally married are not entitled to perks.
Maids' pregnancies should not hinder their professional obligations heavily. How will this be possible? It's a tough thing, honestly.
Singaporean employers should not be held responsible for any financial obligations.
If maids are allowed to get pregnant, the guarantee/security should be lowered since we will be looking to replace the maid.