Employers may struggle to look after housekeepers’ well-being and safety if they live outdoors: MOM
SINGAPORE – Employers could find it harder to look after the welfare and safety of their servants if these workers had to live apart from them, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said.
Employers will also have to take responsibility for their maids if they break the law or suffer injury while living apart, he told The Sunday Times. He was responding after some letter writers at the Straits Times Forum suggested revising employment rules to allow maids to live separately from their employers.
Under the Employment of Foreign Workers (Work Permit) Regulations, Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) must stay in the same residence as their employers. Any other home address must be approved in writing by the Pass Controller.
MOM noted that there have been “only a small number of cases” where MDWs have been found to live separately from their employers.
There were 245,600 MDWs in Singapore in June 2021, according to MOM.
Earlier this month, ST reported that there had been more than 50 requests from employers and maids on social media over the past year for housing arrangements.
Resident housekeepers, who appreciate the privacy such arrangements bring, can be paid up to $1,500 a month, which covers their rental, transportation and food costs. That’s double what some maids get monthly.
They know it is illegal to live outside their employer’s home – without the approval of the authorities – but say it is a secret deal.
In its response, MOM said it is aware that “some households may require domestic services, but are unable to accommodate an MDW in their dwelling due to space constraints or a preference for privacy. “.
For these households, the ministry urged them to consider the Household Services Scheme (HSS), which allows employers to hire help with part-time services such as housekeeping, grocery shopping and car washing at the instead of hiring an MDW.
These workers from approved companies can be deployed in several houses on a part-time basis. They live in housing provided by their companies.
HSS companies are currently allowed to hire female workers from countries like India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Cambodia. This is in addition to existing approved countries in the services sectors, such as China, Malaysia and North Asian sources including Taiwan and South Korea.
The program – introduced as a pilot program in 2017 – was made permanent in September 2021 following increased demand.
For example, professional cleaning services company Amahs On Wheels charges $380 for four weekly cleaning sessions in four- and five-room Housing Board apartments. A pet sitting session costs $30 per hour on weekdays or $50 per hour on weekends, with a minimum of three hours per session.
MOM added that it will continue to monitor household demand and assess whether the scope of services under the RSS can be further expanded.
Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Organization for the Economy of Migration (Home), which defends the rights of migrant workers, has called for a review of the residency rule for MDWs.
He highlighted the demand for housing arrangements, adding that this can benefit both employers and MDWs.
“Letting MDWs live outdoors will give employers and MDWs a chance to choose a living and working environment that works best for them. Employers and MDWs can agree on a salary that will cover accommodation, transportation and food from MDW, as well as the hours that MDWs must adhere to,” said Ms. Jaya Anil Kumar, Head of Research and Advocacy at Home.
“Such arrangements will give employers and MDWs space from each other and could create a healthier working relationship between them.”
Stay options will allow MDWs to have fixed working hours and get enough rest, she explained, adding that overwork remains one of the main complaints faced by the group.
“Living in the employer’s home can also make MDWs more prone to isolation, thus making them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” added Ms. Anil Kumar, who said Home often encounters MDWs. who are forced to live in cramped spaces, such as the pantry and kitchen.
Space constraints are also a concern for Yio Chu Kang MP Yip Hon Weng, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.
Mr Yip, who is married with five children, said his family had no room for a maid. Instead, he hires a company that hires locals and migrant workers to offer part-time services under the RSS.
As to whether a housing arrangement for housekeepers would work, he noted that it gives employers privacy and provides the opportunity to instill independence in young people when help is not there.
But he said there were issues that needed to be addressed.
“Who is going to look for his accommodation? Does the higher salary allow him to pay for his own accommodation? Will she then have to fend for herself and look for her own home? he added.
Employment agencies ST spoke to said they were not in favor of housing agreements.
While acknowledging that such an arrangement can help improve relations between employer and domestic worker, Workforce Manpower director Michael Khan said MDWs could end up abusing the system.
“They may work in the moonlight and engage in other illegal activities,” he added.
Mr William Lau, director of the Maid Avenue employment agency, said: “The majority of employers who currently hire home helpers do so primarily because they have to care for the elderly, children or pets.
“What happens if, for example, the housekeeper has to leave the house at 10 p.m., but the child has to take care of it?”
If a housing arrangement is made legal, most maids would prefer it, Mr Lau said, adding that it would then leave a hole in the market to meet the needs of most Singaporeans.
“If they had to stay outside, they could also come to their employer’s house every day distracted,” he said.