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Maid to rest

Maids, lobby groups happy with new law to give maids weekly day off from next year, but employers aren't so pleased. -TNP
Benson Ang

Thu, Mar 08, 2012
The New Paper

Indonesian maid Suharti Sudiarjo, 34, (centre) enjoying a day off at the poolside with her friends, Ms Sri Mulyani Sastro Suwito, 38, (left) and Ms Ayumi Andasari, 37 (right).

SINGAPORE - You would think that having a day off after working six days at the office makes complete sense.

But not when the office is a home and the worker, a maid, it seems.

As of last year, more than 200,000 foreign maids work here. For many, a day off is just not usual.

Ms Suharti Sudiarjo, 34, has been enjoying Sundays off every week for the last six years.

When her friends first found out, they were surprised.

"When my friends meet me, they always say I have a good employer," said the maid, who has been living with a family in a cluster house in Ang Mo Kio since 2006.

Her employer, housewife Eva Komarudin, 39, told The New Paper that it is "only humane" for maids to have a weekly day off.

She said: "We don't want them to work every day. They already do so six days a week. And I'm sure Suharti will be a better worker if she herself is happy."

Not all employers agree, it seems. Some imagine maids will get into all kinds of mischief if given a day off.

That's why a new legislature announced yesterday stipulates that a maid can have a rest day every week.

The new weekly rest day requirement will apply to foreign domestic workers whose work permits are issued or renewed from Jan 1 next year.

Those who choose to work on their rest day will have to be compensated for this work.

So what does Ms Suharti do on her day off?

She said she attends sewing classes and classes for English, maths, science, accounting and social studies at a church in Orchard Road.

In two years, she plans to take her O levels as a private candidate.

According to her employer, she has no formal educational qualifications.

Ms Suharti, who is divorced and has a 15-year-old child in Indonesia, told TNP: "I want to learn something for the future. With an O-level certificate, I can get a better job when I get home."

In the past, she used to hang out with her friends on weekends.

"We would go window shopping and chat. I eventually got bored of it."

For Ms Eva, giving the maid off also gives her some private time with her family.

She said: "We sometimes go out for family dinners on Saturdays and Sundays. There's no point in asking Suharti to stay at home alone."

Happy with announcement

TNP spoke to eight maids who were all happy with the announcement.

Filipina Catherine Serias, 28, said she would like to go for a computer class and learn more on her rest day.

Indonesian Ina Sukinah, in her 20s, wanted to explore Singapore and meet her friends.

Another maid, Ms Siti Khotimah, 29, simply said: "I need rest."

The eight maids said the top five things they do on their days off are: Meeting friends, going shopping, singing at karaoke clubs, sending money home, watching a movie.

While maid agencies and non-governmental groups welcome the move, maid employers were not so enthusiastic.

Said one, a 73-year-old retiree who wanted to be known onlyas Mr Tan: "My wife is bedridden. She has Parkinson's disease. I need someone to help bathe and feed her. That's why my maid cannot take any days off."

He said he hasn't earned any income for the past 10 years and is upset he has to pay extra for not giving maids a day off.

Project executive Lim G H, 40, said: "If owners have to reimburse maids for their days off, it'll be a burden to them. This means extra expenditure."

Non-governmental organisations Humanitarian Organisation for Migrant Economics (Home), Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) and the Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) have been lobbying for such a rest day for years.

Home and TWC2 help migrant workers, while ACMI assists distressed foreigners.

Said Home's founder and president, Mrs Bridget Lew: "The right to a day off is a worker's right.

It's a shame that Singapore ignored this fundamental right until now."

TWC2's immediate past president, Mr John Gee, concurred, saying the move was "long overdue".

He said: "A rest day lets workers have a break from the environment at home.

"It is also a chance for those with problems to seek help from friends and family."

Mr Gee and Ms Lew were concerned that some workers might be put under pressure to work on their rest days against their will.

Both maid and employer must agree if the rest day is taken or compensated through payment. Under the new law, employers are not supposed to ask their maids to forgo their rest day just by paying in lieu.

Mr Gee said: "It is easy for new maids to be pressured to work as they themselves are in debt and their employers might stress the urgency of this work."

To avoid this scenario, he recommended that maids be guaranteed at least two rest days - when they don't work - every month.

Ms Lew also suggested that domestic workers who work on their days off should be paid more than usual.

"If a normal worker works on his day off, he is paid double," she said. "Why should this be different for domestic workers?"

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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