Maids: Talk to them, trust them and give them a break

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Overworked and stressed – that is the plight of most maids working in Singapore.

Along with the struggles to meet their employers’ demands and expectations, some maids have reacted by going from one extreme to another, including suicide and murdering their employers or family members.

To help maids achieve better work-life balance and, at the same time, persuade more employers to give their helpers a day off, migrant worker groups like the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast) are rolling out more social activities and classes for them.

While it is good that humanitarian organisations are willing to go all out to help maids and reach out to their employers, the problem is that most employers do not trust their maids.

This begs the question: Do employers communicate with their maids?

To solve the problem, employers need to start communicating with their maids to get to know them better and know what goes on in their minds. They also need to learn to put themselves in their maid’s shoes and look at things from their perspective. For a start, the inability of employers to speak in the maids’ language makes communicating and understanding instructions a real problem. Generally speaking, Filipino maids are more familiar with the English language than the Indonesian language. The language gap means efforts taken by Home, Fast and the government to give maids a day-off from work may not be enough.

Generally, Singaporean employers baulk at the idea of giving their maids a day off in fear of their mixing with bad company or getting pregnant. In 2011, only a third of Singapore’s 200,000 foreign domestic workers were allowed a day off a week. According to Transient Workers’ Count Too (TWC2), a local non-government organisation specialising in migrant worker issues, there has been no significant increase in the numbers of maids taking days off from 2011 to 2013.

On average, maids work between 14 and 17 hours a day. Indonesian maids fare worse than their Filipino counterparts. They are expected to work 20 hours every day and are denied weekly days off by their employers.

Speaking to The Independent Singapore, Filipino maid Abi confirms this trend. “The Indonesian maids in my neighbourhood don’t get a day off. Even if they’ have a day off, their employers don’t allow them to step out of their homes.”

“They get up at 6:30 a.m. and by 10:30 p.m., go to bed,” she adds.

To date, there are about 201,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore, with Indonesians accounting for about 35 per cent and Filipinos making up most of the rest. Most of them are young women between the ages of 25 and 33.

Last November, a stressed-out Indonesian maid was charged with the murder of her employer’s 16-year-old daughter.

Between 1999 and 2005, around 147 maids have died during work. In response to the statistics, then Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin announced in Parliament that all maids working in Singapore will be given time off. The time off from work will give maids “a much-needed emotional and mental break from work and time apart from their employers,” says Tan.

Fast’s executive director, William Chew, was quoted by The Straits Times as saying: “At the end of the day, a happy and rejuvenated worker benefits the employer as well.” After all, they are employees, not slaves.