Higher wages for maids not long-term solution
The controversial move to raise Maid wages in Singapore - which got 16 agencies into trouble with the competition watchdog - has not eased the dire shortage of maids share agencies.
And with Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta signing a new agreement soon, which will pave the way for the lifting of a two-year freeze on Indonesian maids working in Malaysia, the situation will get worse, they have added.
Earlier this year, the 16 agencies tried to collectively raise the monthly salaries of new Indonesian maids to S$450 but the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) stepped in and ruled that the agencies had engaged in anti-competitive conduct.
Maid wages in Singapore
In spite of the CCS move, other agencies - TODAY has learnt - have, in the last six months, unilaterally raised salaries from S$380 for new FDWs from Indonesia and the Philippines to up to S$450.
Said Ms Ivy Lee, proprietor of Maid-Power: "There was no benchmark before as they were paid according to their skills. The pay hike is overdue and is an accepted norm now."
With countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan reportedly paying the FDWs about S$600, prospective maids and agents have the bargaining power.
Indonesian Maid wages in Singapore
Ms Lee recounted how an Indonesian domestic helper almost backed out of coming to Singapore until she secured S$400 in monthly pay instead of S$380.
Ms Yuni Dwiastuti, 31, a domestic helper who hails from Semarang, Central Java, earns S$440 now. She has been working here for six years. And, while she is happy with her employers, she hopes for a S$50 pay raise. She said: "All my friends who asked for more pay got it and even the new ones get S$450. I want to provide more for my family."
Responding to TODAY's queries, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) spokesperson noted that FDW household penetration rate in Singapore is currently "much higher than that in Hong Kong".
Said the spokesperson: "There are about 200,000 FDWs in Singapore, equivalent to 175 FDWs per 1,000 household, compared to 122 per 1,000 household in Hong Kong."
The high demand accentuates the shortage. Ms Lee, who has been in the industry for 26 years, noted that many employers do not realise the severity of the situation.
Advising employers not to change maids at whim, Ms Lee said: "Some (maids) are willing to forego a pay increase if their employers are good to them. This is the time for employers to really improve the living conditions of their helpers."
A property firm owner, Mrs Anna Lee, 49, who pays her maid S$340 a month, felt that an FDW's salary "should be based on experience". She noted that there are also other costs borne by employers here, such as the levy that costs between S$200 and S$265 a month and incidental costs such as food and utilities.
Association of Employment Agencies of Singapore (ASEAS) president K Jayaprema reiterated that the long-term solution does not lie in increasing the pay.
She told TODAY: "We have to ask how we can go beyond pay and make Singapore an attractive destination for the women. Domestic helpers are no longer a luxury for Singaporeans - they are a necessity."
MOM WILL CONTINUE TO FINE-TUNE POLICIES
ASEAS is asking the MOM to reduce the minimum age requirement for FDWs and to review the current English language entry test. The MOM had raised the minimum age from 18 to 23 years in 2004 to ensure that the maids who come here to work are responsible and mature enough to take care of themselves and adapt to a foreign working environment.
The MOM spokesperson noted that the Philippines "also maintains a minimum age of 23 for their domestic workers to work in a foreign country".
Still, Ms Jayaprema said: "The legal working age is 21 - why does anyone need to be 23 to do household chores? The passing rate for the English test is very high but the helpers and their agents do not want any risk of failure."
According to Ms Jayaprema, there are no entry tests for foreign domestic workers in other countries. Last Saturday, an Indonesian maid reportedly tried to hang herself at a maid hostel. According to a press report, the hostel staff said the maid was feeling depressed after thrice failing the English language test.
Noting that the average passing rate was "more than 95 per cent", the MOM spokesperson said that most FDWs "who have completed eight years of formal education in their home countries would not face difficulties understanding the test". The spokesperson added that the tests ensure the FDWs "can understand basic safety instructions and have basic numeracy and literacy skills to perform household tasks".
Said the spokesperson: "We regularly examine all options related to improving the quality and supply of domestic workers coming to Singapore, including the entry test and range of source countries. We will continue to work with interested stakeholders to fine-tune our policies."
In the meantime, ASEAS is banking on its marketing efforts to alleviate the crunch. Said Ms Jayaprema: "We have taken overseas trips to market Singapore to agents there, telling them we have good laws that protect workers and the women are treated reasonably well here."
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