Employers to pay Filipino maids more?

PAY more for maids from the Philippines.

That is what employers here may have to do, some maid agencies said.

They said the Philippine Embassy has asked them to stick to regulations that say the maids have to be paid almost $500 a month.

Last week, the Philippines government also ratified an international convention that seeks to protect domestic workers.

Non-government groups that help migrant workers here welcomed the move.

Employers, however, do not.

Employment agents told The New Paper that employers must sign a contract - regulated by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) - with the Filipino maid before they arrive in Singapore.

According to this contract, the maid:

Must be paid a monthly salary of at least US$400 (S$493)

Must be given a rest day every week

Cannot be charged any placement fees

But Ms Bridget Tan, founder and president of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, explained that after the workers arrive, they are typically asked to sign a different contract that has less favourable terms, like a lower salary and fewer days of rest.

This second contract also typically lets employers deduct a significant portion of the workers' salary to "recover" training and airfare costs - usually about $2,000 per worker.

Filipino maids are generally paid $420 to $450 a month, according to previous reports.

Ms Tan said: "For a decade, agents and employers have told workers that the second contract 'supersedes' the first one and the former is only a formality.

"Workers have been told they have to follow the contract signed in Singapore because they are here.

"But it is a violation of the POEA regulations for the workers to be made to pay placement fees or recruitment costs."

The Philippines' permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva formalised its ratification of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189 last Wednesday, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

This convention, also known as the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, seeks to provide equal protection to domestic workers, assuring decent pay, work conditions and other benefits.

A spokesman for the Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs was quoted as saying: "This convention ensures the effective promotion and protection of the welfare and rights of all domestic workers, including our Filipino migrant household service workers."

The convention lists basic rights for domestic workers, which include:

reasonable working hours

weekly rest of at least 24 consecutive hours

a limit on in-kind payment

clear information on terms and conditions of employment

respect for fundamental principles and rights at work, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining

Singapore has not signed the convention.

Indeed, no major migrant-receiving country has ratified the convention so far, an organisation of overseas Filipino workers was quoted as saying.

Queries sent to the Philippine embassy last Friday went unanswered by press time.

The president of the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), Ms K. Jayaprema, said she has not heard from the Philippines embassy about any policy changes due to the ratification.

But the embassy reminded agents last month to adhere to the POEA terms, she said.

"I believe it's an issue of market correction," she said. "For a long time, maids have been shouldering a lot more of the agency fees than employers have.

"Employers can't have it too good for too long."

Mr Tay Khoon Beng, director of Best Home Employment Agency said: "New maids might have to be paid a higher salary, as stipulated in the POEA contract."

His agency was advised by the Philippines Embassy only last month to follow the POEA contract "strictly" from Sept 15, he said.

He has informed employers in a letter that if the Philippines authorities insist that the POEA contract be enforced without modifications, they would have to bear all costs for the recruitment, documentation and suppliers' commission - estimated at an additional $1,500 - for new maids in the future.

But it was not clear what action the Philippines could take to enforce this.

In the letter, Mr Tay said: "We hope an amicable solution will be implemented to address all concerns."

Maid employers were not happy when told of a possible increase in the salaries of maids.

Said programme manager Sunil Sadanandan, who employs a Filipino maid: "I currently pay my maid less than $400 a month. If this increases to $493 a month, it'd be a big jump."

The 43-year-old added: "Given that the salaries of Indonesian maids have also increased recently, I might be looking at maids from other countries, like Myanmar or Sri Lanka.

"Hopefully, there won't be a degradation in the quality of work."

Housing agent Frances Teo, 36, said: "If there is a salary increase, it can be quite suffocating for the employers, especially if the maid is untrained."

The mother of three, who employs a Filipino maid, added: "The families who employ maids really need them. It's not a luxury for most."

There are now some 206,000 maids here, most of whom are from the Philippines and Indonesia.

The Philippines embassy in Malaysia has tightened the rules for new agencies to bring in maids from the country, reported The Star last Thursday.

The Philippines government has also decided to phase out the sending of its citizens overseas to work as domestic workers over five years, according to the article.

This is aimed at protecting Filipinas from abuse, and will affect about 180 countries where Filipinas work as maids or nannies.

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