Some new maids won't get day off next year

Their bosses would rather pay extra when policy kicks in, say maid agents. -ST
Amelia Tan

Thu, Dec 06, 2012
The Straits Times

An exception is Mr Say Tien Fatt – with his Filipino maid Carina Eban (left), 42, wife Nancy, 30, and children (from left) Simon, four, Ding Wen, six, and Sam, aged 11/2 – who intends to give Ms Eban a day off every week from next month, up from two days off a month now.

SINGAPORE - DO NOT expect many employers to give their maids any days off when the new compulsory weekly day off policy kicks in from Jan1.

A check with eight maid agents - among them the biggest players in Singapore - showed that 70per cent of their combined 800 or so customers who will be hiring maids next month will not give their domestic workers any rest days.

The agents say the employers' reluctance to give days off boils down to a lack of trust: They fear their maids will fall into bad company and lose interest in their work.

There are also some bosses who cannot offer their maids any days off as they are unable to care for young children or elderly family members on their own.

But this convenience and peace of mind come at a price: Employers will be forking out about $70 or $80 on top of the maids' basic pay of about $450, to get them to work on the four rest days to which they are entitled every month. That works out to between $17 and $20 for each day off.

After years of contentious public debate on the issue, the Manpower Ministry announced in March that foreign maids whose work permits are issued or renewed from Jan1 next year will get one day off a week or must be given a day's wages in lieu.

Employers and maids can agree on compensation in lieu of a weekly day off, but this must be done in writing. There are 208,400 maids in Singapore. They are mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Airline executive Josephine Luo, 34, who will be hiring a maid next year, said: "She will have a heavy responsibility caring for my two young sons, one of whom will be a newborn baby. I need to make sure that she is serious about her work and will not be distracted by other things."

Engineer Lio Jin Teck, 55, who is planning to hire a maid for his wheelchair-bound elderly mother, said: "My friends told me that some of their maids fell into bad company after going out. I am also worried about the people she may mix with."

But not all employers feel that way. Mr Say Tien Fatt, 36, an assistant general manager of an engineering company, will give his Filipino maid a day off every week from next month, up from two days off a month now. He said: "I see giving her a day off as a reward for her good work. I feel that when you treat your worker well, she will be motivated to work harder."

Still, Ms Carene Chin, managing director of maid agency Homekeeper, said bosses who offer their maids a day off every week are rare, and those who do so are usually expatriates.

Agents say most who agree to give their maids days off are willing to offer them only one rest day a month.

And according to the agents, the offer is on the table only after the maids have worked for a year.

By then, they would have paid back to their employers the placement fee of more than $2,000, which their bosses pay on their behalf when they come to Singapore. Employers recover the fees by deducting the money gradually from the maids' salary in the first year of their contracts.

Advance Link International owner Winnie Wang said employers think their maids will meet other maids on their days off and start comparing their pay and other terms in their contracts. This might lead them to ask for better terms or threaten to stop working.

"Employers are worried that they will lose their placement fees if the maid has not paid off her loan and suddenly decides that she is not happy to work for them," added Ms Wang.

Orange Employment Agency owner Shirley Ng said there are also maids who prefer to work on their days off, so they can earn more money.

Some new maids would rather not have rest days because they are unfamiliar with Singapore and do not wish to go out.

Maids who do not request days off usually come from Indonesia, while Filipino maids, who are mostly Catholic, are more insistent on getting Sundays off so that they can go to church.

Ms Bridget Tan, chief executive of migrant workers' rights group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, said: "The Manpower Ministry must ensure that the workers are not forced to work if they want to have their day off. The workers must complain to the ministry and it must follow up."

Comfort Employment director Benny Liew said it will take time to get Singaporean employers to support the policy involving days off. "They have been used to not giving their maids any days off all these years. It may take a few years before they accept it. Agents should also do their part to educate employers that maids deserve time off."

Employers who give their maids days off say they feel assured that their maids are responsible for themselves. Housewife Jolyn Loh, 42, whose Filipino maid gets a rest day every Sunday, said: "She has been working for me for almost two years and is serious about her work. I feel that she deserves a good rest."

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