Dealing with a new generation of maids

BETTER pay, a day off every week, and even free access to Wi-Fi - the demands of foreign maids today are a far cry from when Singapore first opened its doors to them some three decades ago.

While an impoverished situation in their home country and a strong Singapore dollar remain the main push and pull factors, maids from the Philippines, Indonesia and even Cambodia now also want an enriching time for themselves while working here.

But while their needs are changing, some Singapore employers seem to be stuck in the past. This puts them in conflict with maids asking for better employment terms and more personal freedom.

The result has been more maids terminating standard two-year contracts early and changing employers.

According to figures from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), close to six in 10 maids placed by agencies between February 2011 and February last year stayed with the same employer for less than a year.

Singapore agents and maids - there are more than 214,500 here now compared with fewer than 100,000 three decades ago - say it is time for employers here to change their mindsets.

The increasing level of education of maids - most have completed secondary education compared with just primary school 30 years ago - means they are more aware of their rights, and are ready to push for them.

A law providing rest days for maids came into effect on Jan 1 last year. All maids hired or who have their work permits renewed from that date must receive a day off each week, or pay in lieu.

Maids whom The Straits Times spoke to described how much they looked forward to Sundays, when they can socialise with their friends and take a breather.

They admit that when bosses are not willing to offer them rest days, they prefer to look for a more accommodating employer.

Yet, many employers still prefer to pay extra money rather than allow their maids to take a weekly day off.

Employers have to shell out about $70 a month, on top of the basic pay of about $450, to get maids to work on rest days.

Many employers with elderly family members or young children will pay extra, as they find it hard to cope without their maid's help.

But employers can start off by negotiating with their maids for a monthly day off instead of a weekly one. Or, if the maids are needed on weekends, a day off on weekdays can be offered instead.

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