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Fewer maids remain with same boss for a year

Retention rate worsening; agents cite falling quality of maids coming here. -ST
Amelia Tan

Mon, Dec 10, 2012
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - FEWER than half of maids here complete a year of service before they are transferred to new employers or sent home.

And the trend is worsening, according to new figures from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Maid agents interviewed this week said the numbers confirm a trend they have observed in recent years - the quality of maids coming to Singapore is falling because Taiwan and Hong Kong are attracting the cream of the crop.

Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K.Jayaprema said the quality of maids has fallen in recent years. This results in employers having to switch maids more often.

The MOM tracks data from the more than 1,000 maid agencies here to check the worker "retention success rate", which shows whether maids from an agency stay with or leave their bosses.

It told The Straits Times that on average, only 42 per cent of maids placed in homes by agencies between October 2009 and October last year stayed with the same employer for at least a year.

This is down from the last reported retention success rate: 47 per cent of maids placed between February 2008 and February 2010 worked for the same employer for at least a year. A standard employment contract is for two years.

Taiwan and Hong Kong offer maids salaries of $700 to $850 a month, compared with the $450 most maids get here. In addition, their labour laws assure maids of a weekly rest day, as well as public holidays and maternity leave.

"Hong Kong and Taiwan get the first pick of the hard-working and enthusiastic workers. So naturally we end up with the ones who may not be as good," Ms Jayaprema said. "Employers find fault with them as some are not up to standard."

She said salaries must go up so Singapore can fend off the competition from Taiwan and Hong Kong. "We may be looking at $600 in starting pay for a maid in the near future."

There are 208,400 maids in Singapore, most of whom come from Indonesia and the Philippines.

There is another contributory factor to the high turnover.

Agents said they still come across unduly strict employers who refuse to allow their maids to own cellphones or have any days off. This treatment causes resentment among maids and makes them terminate their contracts.

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics chief executive Bridget Tan said more maids will stand up for themselves by asking for a new employer if they feel that they are unfairly treated.

This is because of better education and increased awareness as well as outreach efforts by the MOM, migrant workers groups and embassies that inform them of their rights as workers.

Some agents note that retention rates should improve soon.

Best Home Employment Agency is seeing a twofold increase in contract renewals as bosses want to avoid paying newly introduced agency fees to recruit new maids - the result of regulations from foreign governments.

For example, employers are paying agency fees of up to $1,600 for a new Indonesian maid this year, up from between $400 and $600 previously.

The answer to getting maids to stay longer lies in offering them better employment terms and in increasing mutual respect between bosses and their workers, said agents and employers alike.

Corporate communications executive Jamie Chan, 31, who has changed maids each year for the past three years, said: "I've realised that there is no perfect worker. You should also be prepared to spend time to train your maid."

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