Thursday, 3 January 2013

Guide for maid employers

It contains information on days off and training courses for maids
By Amelia Tan, The Straits Times, 2 Jan 2013

TRADER Ang Keen Guan is not sure whether he can ask his new Filipino maid to do some chores before leaving the house on her day off.

He also wonders how many hours of rest is considered acceptable.

Mr Ang, 46, will soon receive answers to these questions in a new guide prepared by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which aims to give employers all the information they need now that a policy giving maids one mandatory day off per week has kicked in.

The new rules apply to foreign domestic workers who have work permits issued or renewed from the start of this year.

If they are not given a weekly day off, they must be given a day's wages in lieu. Employers can ask their domestic helpers to perform light tasks on their free days, which should consist of at least eight hours of rest.

The English version of the booklet will be mailed to employers in the next few weeks. Apart from tips on where to turn to for help when maids take their days off, there will also be information on training courses for domestic workers and general dos and don'ts that employers should be aware of. The guide, available in Mandarin, Malay and Tamil from the MOM website, includes a sample agreement for employers to record information such as when the maid can take her day off and how much she will be paid if she works instead.

MOM also e-mailed agents the sample agreement last month, which many of them have already been using in discussions on rest days with employers and maids.

Agents have also been gearing up for the day-off rule by encouraging employers who have hired maids in the past two months to give them rest days even though the new rules do not affect them.

This is to prevent domestic workers who arrived shortly before the new rule kicked in from feeling short-changed, they said.

The Straits Times reported recently that most employers still prefer not to give maids any days off because of a lack of trust.

Employers who want their domestic helpers to work on the four rest days they get each month will fork out about $70 to $80 on top of their basic pay of about $450. That works out to between $17 and $20 for each day off. But agents said they are hopeful that mindsets will change soon.

Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore) president K.Jayaprema said: "Employers need to realise that giving a day off is part of offering good employment terms so that we will be able to compete with other countries to attract quality domestic workers."

Employers who sign up their maids for courses on their days off said doing so makes them feel more relaxed about giving them rest days. Mr Ang Keen Guan, 46, who will be hiring a new maid in two weeks and plans to give her two rest days a month, said: "I will feel more assured that she is not mixing with bad company if she attends courses. I will consider paying for the courses too."

Employers who give their maids a day off every week said there are benefits. Mr Say Tien Fatt, a 36-year-old assistant general manager of an engineering company, said: "I find that my maid is refreshed after her rest day. If she doesn't want to take the day off and would rather work, she gets paid more. So she is happier too."

How is the rate of compensation in lieu of a weekly rest day calculated?

A maid's daily wage is calculated by dividing her monthly salary by 26 working days. There are four rest days each month.

How many hours of rest constitutes a rest day and what period does the rest day span?

Most employers provide their maids with a continuous break from work lasting at least eight hours.

Employers should discuss the time and duration of rest days with their maids and come to a mutual agreement.

Can I deduct money from my maid's salary if she returns home late on her day off?

No, as she is not paid for her rest days. The law also requires maids to be paid their full salaries each month.

Can I ask her to do light chores on her rest day?
Generally, you may ask your maid to do light duties. You and your maid should work out a mutual arrangement that is reasonable for both parties.

MOM tightens rules on maid changes
It seeks to better understand reasons behind frequent switching of helpers
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 4 Jan 2013

TIGHTENED measures to discourage employers from changing maids frequently will kick in today.

The Ministry of Manpower has decreased the number of helpers a household can go through in a year until interviews are held to assess the situation before any further applications are made. The changes were announced in a circular to maid agencies, in order to better understand the reasons behind the frequent changes and to identify employers who need help "maintaining a positive working relationship" with their maids.

Recent MOM figures cited in a Straits Times article last month showed that fewer than half the maids in Singapore complete a year of service before they are transferred or sent home - and the trend is worsening.

Employers applying for a fifth maid within a year and whose previous four were all employed for less than three months each will now be interviewed by MOM before their work permit application is approved. New maids of such employers will also be interviewed within three months of starting work to see how they are coping with their new bosses and life in Singapore. Previously, only employers making their sixth or greater application within a year would have to be interviewed.

MOM will also talk to new maids of people changing helpers for a fourth time within a year and whose previous three domestic workers were all employed for less than three months each.

Such employers must attend an orientation programme - previously only mandatory for an employer changing maids for the fifth time in a year.

Advisory letters will now also be issued to employers changing maids for the third time in a year, and whose two previous maids were both not employed more than three months each.

Agencies welcomed the move, saying it would encourage households to be patient and improve retention rates, which have been lowered by factors such as unduly strict employers and the lower quality of maids coming here.

Most of the 208,400 maids in Singapore are from Indonesia and the Philippines. "For a while, the rules have been in place, but we continue to have retention problems, so this can hopefully make headway," said Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin. He also added that the cause of tension between employers and maids was "very subjective" and might not necessarily be due to difficult employers.

"You can have difficult maids or difficult employers, it depends on which side of the story you're listening to," he said.

Agents added that encouraging employers to stay with maids for at least three months would help new domestic workers adjust to working conditions here.

"The key thing is to educate employers not to set expectations that are too high. The quality of maids today is not as high as a decade ago," said Comfort Employment's director Benny Liew.

Less than 0.5 per cent of employers have changed maids more than four times within a year.

"If they can bite the bullet for at least a few months, they can avoid making impulsive decisions and changing their maids very early on," Mr Liew added.

Employer Crystal Ong, 28, said the new measures offer a "fair deal". The hair salon owner said: "It's like other jobs having a probational period. When they first come, you don't really know whether the character of the maid will fit us. Three months is sufficient time to get to really know if the maid is suitable."

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