Monday, July 02, 2007

Maid Abuse in Singapore.

Finally, I get my butt on writing stuff on my blog. This is something I had wanted to talk about for a while and this Forum article on the Straits Times prompted it again.

What appalled me initially was just how callous the government had been towards foreign workers when I read an article a while back about the government's reasons for not putting maids in the same category as other people as far as labour laws are concerned. That is:

1) they do not get Sundays off as part of a regular work-week (or an equivalent day off since the claim is that they are specially needed over the weekend);

2) there's apparently no minimum wage restrictions on the hiring of maids. I believe it was written in that older article, that they are paid lower than some minimum wage (the reason I used the word "some" is because as of this time, I'm not even sure Singapore enforces any minimum wage per se as part of any labour law). Really, I should check ... afterall I'm trying to make the point that maids are treated very differently from the rest of our labour force.

I think I would agree with the MoM that the incidence rate of maid abuse is low. However, I find it a very uncomfortable thought ... is "low" good enough? No tears are shed for the ones that get abused? No serious punishment? (according to the linked forum article, the fine is just $250 ... we pay more for littering for crying out loud). There also seems to be no easy way for a maid to report an abusive employer without severe consequences to her employment status.

Which brings me to the other topic of maids out to take advantage of the employer. I know many people in Singapore (I know a few) who simply do not trust their maids. It is a tough problem. Can we ensure that there is a system in place to bring justice not only to abused maids, but also to employers who are criminally targetted by their maids?

I would like to borrow from the MM's take on corruption for this matter. "If you pay them well, treat them well, then you have a better chance of an employee who will not abuse your relationship with them". That is, we start treating our maids as proper human beings who are here to help us with our chores (and hence valued). If the maids in question do cause trouble, there's a justice system in place that favors neither employer nor maid but is there to quickly resolve problems of this nature.

Ultimately, I like the idea the article's author presented: That maids would live in hostels and turn up for work for 10-12 hours per day. I've actually seen that in action in India at my friend's home where they have domestic help come in everyday (or at pre-arranged times) instead of staying 24-hours. I'd like to remind fellow Singaporeans that their general purpose here is to help relieve our day-to-day chores, not be at our beck-and-call any time of the day. In the case of special needs (looking after children, aging parents etc ...), there should probably be a special category of maids for which higher pay might be demanded. We're a first-world country, I think we should start learning to live and pay for it like everyone else does.

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