Wednesday, 6 June 2012

New rule: Employers must watch when maids clean windows

By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2012

When this chore has to be done, the employer or an adult representative will have to be around to supervise it. Window grilles must be installed, and locked during the cleaning.

These rules, to take immediate effect, will apply to all homes, except those with windows at ground level or which are along common corridors.

The guidelines from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), to be enforced under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations, come in the wake of a spike in the number of maids who have fallen to their deaths this year.

So far, nine have died in the course of doing their chores.

Four died last year, and eight the year before.

MOM's investigations showed that five of the nine deaths this year happened during window cleaning, and two occurred when laundry was being hung out.

The other two cases are being investigated.

MOM said in its statement that it is looking into ramping up penalties for employers who fail to provide a safe environment for their maids: The fine could be doubled from $5,000 and the jail term doubled from six months.

Employers can be fined, jailed, or both fined and jailed.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said in his ministry's blog yesterday that MOM had consulted employers, trainers, non-governmental organisations and maids when drafting the guidelines.

He said: 'There was overwhelming consensus on the need to do more of the same thing more intensively - educate, enforce and legislate.'

Explaining the focus on window-cleaning, he said MOM found from surveying 600 households that this is a chore carried out regularly, in homes with or without maids.

MOM said it had excluded hanging laundry from the guidelines as this was presumably a daily chore, and impractical for employers to supervise each time.

Safety of maid is boss' duty
Agents cheer news while bosses say supervision rule 'not practical'
By Amelia Tan Hui Fang , Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2012

THE message sent out by the tightened guidelines on cleaning of window exteriors in high-rise homes is clear, say maid agents and employers.

This is that when it comes to ensuring maids' safety, the buck stops with the employers.

Maid agents said making employers bear more responsibility for keeping their maids out of harm's way as they do their chores will be effective in preventing more maids from falling from heights on the job.

Employers, on the other hand, said that although they understood the need to tighten the safety guidelines on window-cleaning, being required to supervise the maid who is doing this would be a hassle if both husband and wife have to work.

The agents and employers were reacting to the announcement by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) yesterday that employers have to be around while window cleaning is done, and that window grilles must be installed and kept locked while it is being done.

The guidelines, which take immediate effect, come on the back of nine maids having fallen and died so far this year; five died while cleaning windows.

Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin said: 'The long-term solution is to make sure that safety tips are ingrained in the maids and to let them know that they can say 'no' to doing dangerous tasks.'

But he said this mindset change will take time, so 'in the meantime... employers must step up and take more responsibility'.

Best Home Employment director Tay Khoon Beng said: 'Getting employers to supervise the maids will send the message to the maids that their safety is a priority.'

Mr Alvin Tan, 46, a senior vice-president of an oil and gas company, spoke for employers who see the impractical side of the 'supervision' requirement:

'The Government expects employers to be at home to supervise, but I hired my maid to look after my children, since both my wife and I have to work.'

Migrant workers group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), which had pushed for a ban on cleaning windows, said MOM had 'reacted in a positive way'.

'But we still feel a total ban will be a more effective way to deal with the situation,' said Home president Bridget Tan.

Indonesian Embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono, who previously said the Indonesian government will blacklist employers who endangered their maids' lives, welcomed the changes.

FAQs on window cleaning

What if my maid cleans the windows without my knowing?

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will look into whether she has been doing that without having been told of the new safety guidelines.

Employers who want their maids to clean window exteriors should at least inform their maids about the guidelines.

MOM will also tell maids that they should not be cleaning window exteriors unless it is safe.

What is considered 'supervision'?

Supervision entails ensuring that work conditions are safe.

For example, employers should see to it that the window grilles are locked at all times, so that the maid is not putting herself in danger while cleaning the window exteriors.

Can my teenage child or elderly parent supervise the maid instead?

If the employer is not present, an adult representative should at least know the required safety conditions and be in a position of authority to ensure the safety rules are followed.

To find out more about the new regulations, visit

Maid who fell 'thought Singapore was safe'
By Cherie Thio, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2012

INDONESIAN maids like Madam Nuraini Sri Haryati are told during the the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) one-day Settling-in-Programme to be careful when hanging laundry out of the windows in high-rise homes here.

But Madam Nuraini, fresh off the plane from her village in Java, thought little of the safety warning. The 29-year-old, speaking from her bed in Khoo Teck Puat Hospital yesterday, said: 'I thought Singapore was safe and nothing would ever happen to me here.'

But something did.

On Sunday, less than three weeks into her job with a family in Woodlands, she stood on a stool and leant out of the 12th-storey flat to hang the laundry out, but lost her balance. Luckily, instead of plunging 12 floors, she managed to grab hold of the metal laundry pole-holders on the 11th storey and cling onto them.

Her frantic cries for help were heard by the people in that 11th-storey flat, who immediately held onto her legs - just as she lost her grip on the pole-holders and dangled head-first in the air.

Three men helped her to climb onto a ledge for support, and held on to her for nearly half an hour before she was hoisted into the 11th-storey flat by Singapore Civil Defence Force officers.

Madam Nuraini said that as she lay on the ledge, her only thoughts were of how sorry she was to have left her husband and daughter, aged eight, back home.

She told The Straits Times: 'If I fell down, I'd have died and that would be the end, so I kept saying sorry to my family in my mind over and over again.'

She said she was hanging the laundry out, as she did every morning, when one of the bamboo poles could not fit into the holder properly. That was when she used the stool so that she could reach out better, she said.

'My employer is very nice to me, but I was scared she would scold me if I let the clothes fall (to the ground floor),' she said.

Madam Nuraini said she had been a housewife before coming to Singapore. This was her first job, one she had taken to help clear a family debt of $400, and to supplement what her electrician husband earned.

Her stay here has probably ended with her fall. She said she cannot bear the thought of going back to her employer's flat - not even to collect her things - and has asked MOM officials to help her with this.

She said her whole body aches and she cannot walk for long before feeling faint. She now also has a phobia of windows. 'Every time I look at the hospital window next to my bed, I feel nauseous.'

MOM said although its announcement of tighter guidelines on maids' window-cleaning duties came on the back of Madam Nuraini's fall, it had actually been working on drafting them in the last few weeks.

Welfare groups call for stricter rules on maids hanging laundry
They say this practice can be as hazardous as window cleaning
By Amelia Tan , Amelia Tan Hui Fang, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2012

MOST of the maids who fell to their deaths from heights in the past 21/2 years were cleaning windows, but worker welfare groups want maids hanging out laundry to be closely supervised too.

A day after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced that maids will no longer be allowed to clean the exteriors of windows unsupervised, foreign worker welfare groups such as the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said the next area of focus should be the hanging of laundry outside high-rise homes.

They said this practice can be as hazardous as window cleaning.

The MOM's investigations show that two of the nine maids who fell from heights and died while working this year were hanging out laundry. Five of the nine deaths happened while they were cleaning windows. The other two cases are being investigated.

The ministry noted that the majority of the maids involved in work-related falls from heights this year were cleaning windows.

'Over the last 21/2 years, this was the case as well,' it added.

The welfare groups, in asking for more vigilance, pointed out that bamboo pole sockets are installed outside HDB flats. It can be tough to slot the pole inside the socket when the pole is heavy with damp and heavy laundry.

Responding to Straits Times queries, the HDB said bamboo pole sockets are still used in the majority of flats, but are progressively being replaced with devices such as external drying racks that support both ends of the pole.

But more can be done, as Mr John Gee, an executive committee member of TWC2, said: 'It would be silly if we are able to stop maids from cleaning windows in a dangerous way but pay no attention to the hanging of laundry, and find later that maids are falling because of that.'

Home president Bridget Tan said hanging laundry out to dry and cleaning window exteriors should be banned totally.

Mr Gee said the MOM should make it compulsory for employers to demonstrate to their maids how to hang laundry on poles in a safe way, and then get employers to check once a month that their maids are doing what they have been taught.

He also suggested that these guidelines be enforced under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations.

Maids interviewed agreed that hanging laundry outside high-rise homes can be dangerous. Filipino maid Lorevie Tan, 34, said: 'I dropped a piece of clothing once at the window ledge, and I tried to use a bamboo stick to grab it back. Half my body was leaning outside the window.'

Indonesian maid Farida Riani, 26, said windy conditions scare her: 'The wind blows strongly and the pole with clothes or bedsheets is very heavy to carry. I feel like I can lose my balance.'

On Monday, the MOM announced that maids can now clean window exteriors only when their employer or an adult representative is around to supervise.

Window grilles must be installed and locked during such work. These rules will apply to all homes except those with windows at ground level or windows sited on a floor with common corridors.

The MOM also said it is looking into ramping up penalties for employers who fail to provide a safe environment for maids. Fines may be doubled from $5,000 and jail terms doubled from six months.

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