The Ministry of Manpower announced that employers of foreign domestic workers will be required to give their workers a day off.
Applicable to domestic workers whose contracts are renewed or issued after January 2013, the move has been implemented by the Ministry of Manpower to provide domestic helpers with a physical, emotional and mental respite from their daily work. Singaporeans currently employ over 200,000 domestic helpers from countries like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. Although some employers allow their maids one day off a month, employers are not required to give their maids any days off at the present moment.
Step forward in labour rights
Since its announcement last week, the new regulation has been a hot topic amongst Singaporeans, domestic helpers and human rights groups alike. News outlets and forums have been ablaze with articles and letters discussing the Ministry’s bold new legislation.
Bridget Tan, founder and president of charity organisation, Humanitarian Organisation of Migration Economics, welcomed the move in an official statement saying the new legislation brings Singapore “a step closer towards the full recognition of domestic workers with the same kinds of rights as all other workers”. HOME is best known for its efforts in providing domestic helpers with legal advice and campaigning for their rights in Singapore.
Basic right or luxury?
Employers, on the other hand, stand divided on whether a weekly day off is really necessary for their domestic helpers.
Mrs Pillay, a mother of one, feels that the weekly day off may be more detrimental than useful. “I understand that maids are also human beings and they need a break just like any employee,” she begins. “Unfortunately, in my experience, maids often abuse this right and betray the trust of their employer by breaking the agreed contract terms. When this happens, it causes a lot of stress and even financial burden for the employer while the maids are able to walk away without bearing the consequences of their actions,” she says.
Mrs Hazmima, a mother of four, also shares the same sentiment. “I agree with giving maids off days, but to do so on a weekly basis is a challenge,” she says. “Frankly I’ve treated my maids as part of my family because they work hard and devote their time and energy to care for my children when I’m at work. However, not all maids are trustworthy and these maids go out to socialise on the rest days, which can create problems and distractions,” she continues.” As a mother to four kids, I would not want my maid to get distracted while managing my children and my household. “
Both Mrs Pillay and Mrs Hazmima have stated that they would be offering their domestic helpers extra pay to work on their off days instead of encouraging them to take the day off.
However, not all employers are against the concept of a weekly rest day for maids. “Domestic helpers should not differ from any other employee in any other profession and they should be given the right to have a day off to spend their time as they wish,” says Mrs VanWinkle, a mother of one. “ To make things easier, the onus should be on maids to bear the consequences of their actions if they step out of line, so that employers do not have to restrict their activities or pay for their actions,” she says.
How do you feel about this new legislation? Would you rather pay your domestic worker extra to work on her off day or have her take the day off to unwind?