Thursday 12 November 2015

Minimum pay for Indonesian maids at $550 from January 2016

Higher pay for Indonesian maids from next year
By Amelia Teng, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2015

Employers will have to pay more to hire an Indonesian maid from next year.

The Indonesian Embassy had announced in a letter to Singapore maid agents last month that maids from its country must be paid at least $550 a month, up from the current $500. The last round of increase was in September last year, from $450 to $500.

There are about 125,000 Indonesian maids in Singapore, making up about half of the foreign domestic worker population here.

Indonesian Embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono told The Straits Times that the increased minimum wage applies to domestic helpers coming to work here from January next year, and those renewing their contracts next year. He cited several reasons for the Indonesian government's decision, including protecting Indonesian women who go abroad to work.

"We have to protect the income of the Indonesian maids. Singapore also doesn't have a minimum wage, unlike others like Taiwan and Hong Kong," he said.

Mr Gary Chin, managing director of Nation Employment, a maid agency, said that higher salaries might attract more applicants to work here.

"But the increases might be too frequent. Employers need some time to digest and get used to it. Some might consider hiring workers of other nationalities," he said, adding that domestic workers here are paid $450 to $550 each month.

Another agency owner, who declined to be named, said that the increase came as a surprise as worker salaries was not one of the issues raised at a recent meeting an Indonesian government official had with several maid agencies.

"We discussed many other issues like regulation and loans, but salary was not one of them," he said.

"We will continue to face increasing salaries if we don't improve the work conditions here," he said. "The supplying countries can't change our laws and regulations. The only thing they can control is the salary of their workers."

When contacted, the Ministry of Manpower said that it has not received any official notice about the new minimum wage set by the Indonesian government.

"While source countries may choose to impose additional requirements administered by the foreign government or embassy, employment agencies and employers should assess whether they can fulfil these requirements when recruiting foreign domestic workers and making their hiring decisions respectively," a spokesman said.

Comparison of Minimum Wages
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2015

Minimum monthly salary of domestic workers from three most popular countries

INDONESIAFrom $550 starting in 2016


MYANMARFrom $450

Demand for Indonesian maids likely to fall in Singapore after pay rise
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2015

With the minimum pay for Indonesian maids set to rise from $500 to $550 in 2016, maid agencies in Singapore expect to see a fall in demand for them with the wage hike.

But they do not expect this to last for too long.

"After the second month, the market tends to adapt," said Mr Gary Chin, managing director of maid agency Nation Employment, citing the experience from a previous wage hike.

The previous increase was in September last year, when the minimum pay for Indonesian maids rose from $450 to $500.

The Indonesian Embassy announced the latest increase in a letter in October to Singapore maid agents. One of the reasons cited was to protect the income of Indonesian women who go abroad to work. Singapore agents have to abide by the minimum wage or risk being banned.

There are about 125,000 Indonesian maids here, making up around half the foreign domestic worker population.

The increase applies to domestic helpers coming to work here from January, and those renewing their contracts in 2016.

While demand may stabilise in the short term, in the longer term wage hikes may cause employers to look for maids from elsewhere, said Mr Benny Liew, director of Comfort Employment.

While Filipino maids were in great demand in the past for their command of English, they are less sought after now, partly because of their higher starting salaries of US$400 (S$570).

Ms Dione Yap, 43, who is self-employed, said salary was among her considerations when she hired a maid from Myanmar.

The pay for an experienced Myanmar maid is around $500, comparable to the basic pay for a fresh hire from Indonesia.

Sales executive Fiza Sulaiman, 32, said she already pays her Indonesian maid around $550 each month and does not think she will be affected much.

She added that the pay rise was good for maids who do not often get one from employers.

According to Mr Liew, the wage increase may also lead to more people renewing their maids' contracts - instead of terminating them for new hires - and conducting private negotiations to pay them less than the minimum wage.

The smaller maid agencies expect to be harder hit by the new minimum pay.

Ms Sa'diah Saidi, owner of SJ Global Employment, said most of the maids she places are from Indonesia but she may have to look to Myanmar or Cambodia if wages continue to rise.

Some agents in Indonesia have also stopped recruiting in the meantime until they are clear on the new regulations, so supply may shrink.

She added that if wages continue to increase, it may become a luxury for middle-income families to have a maid, even if they need one.

Maids' pay rise in Singapore: Boon or bane?
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 12 Nov 2015

The Indonesian Embassy has told agents that from 2016, new contracts for maids from its country should include a monthly salary of at least $550, up from the current $500.

While the move may appear to be a boon for Indonesian maids, more could end up struggling to find jobs if employers turn to cheaper options from Myanmar, for instance.

With the change, the minimum wage for Indonesian maids will be closer to the minimum monthly pay of US$400 (S$570) mandated for Filipino maids by their government.

There are around 125,000 Indonesian maids in Singapore, and about 70,000 maids from the Philippines.

These make up the lion's share of the more than 227,000 domestic helpers here, with others coming from countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The pay rise could also see the booming maid transfer business, which works with helpers already working in Singapore, get even bigger.

If employers have to pay $550 a month for a new maid, they may think it more worth their while to hire someone who is already trained and familiar with local culture.

Still, employers may lose out if the new pay rise leads to a price war - with governments of various countries setting increasingly higher standards of pay for their nationals. The Philippines government, however, has not increased its stipulated minimum monthly salary for maids for more than a decade.

In the end, it comes down to supply and demand. Unless there are more Singaporeans stepping up to the roles of caregivers and housekeepers, foreign domestic helpers may continue to command better wages.

And why not? They still earn less than most Singaporean low-wage workers.

There is something to be said for changes that make for a more equitable society.

Maids fear losing job when they get pregnant
Sex education could help them prevent unwanted pregnancies, say NGOs
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 3 Dec 2015

Fear. That was her friend's first reaction when she found out she was pregnant last year, said domestic helper Marie, whose friend is also a domestic worker.

"If her employer found out, she could be blacklisted and sent back to the Philippines. But her family needs her help financially," said Marie, who declined to name her friend. "She thought of losing the baby here."

But Marie and other friends chipped in to help the 37-year-old buy an air ticket home, where she gave birth.

Now, the baby boy is cared for by her family while she is back working in Singapore. Her boyfriend, an Indian construction worker here, helps to support them financially.

About 100 domestic helpers are reported to get pregnant each year, or less than 0.05 per cent of all such workers here, a spokesman for the Manpower Ministry (MOM) said.

The number has remained stable over the past five years although the number of maids has risen by about 10 per cent.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and employment agents told The Straits Times that they see only a handful of pregnancy cases a year.

But, as in Marie's friend's case, more are likely unreported.

A domestic worker usually panics when she finds out she is pregnant, because she can lose her job.

This is because one of the conditions for a work permit is not becoming pregnant or giving birth here unless she is married to a Singaporean or permanent resident with the approval of MOM.

Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, president of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said: "They may be pushed to do things that are not quite wise, such as hiding the pregnancy and giving birth prematurely."

In October, a 33-year-old Indonesian maid was arrested after giving birth to a stillborn baby and hiding the foetus in a drawer in her employer's house.

Mr Tay Khoon Beng, owner of Best Home Employment Agency, said sometimes, the baby could have been conceived while the woman was on home leave.

There are also those who are married to other foreign workers in Singapore or abroad.

However, these women are sometimes still left to fend for themselves.

"Joy can become a disaster if the father disappears," said Ms Valli Pillai, director of casework at the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home).

Then there is the difficulty of facing the family back home if the baby is illegitimate.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) senior executive officer Elizabeth Tan said: "If they are single, they may be the talk of the town or the village, and the family's image will be affected."

Singapore has a mandatory settling-in programme for arriving first-time domestic workers.

An MOM spokesman said it teaches them about their rights and responsibilities, and informs them of available help channels.

He said: "The programme does not cover topics relating to sex education as these may potentially offend cultural and religious sensibilities, given that they come from different backgrounds."

However, NGOs said formal sex education could go some way towards helping maids understand how to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies.

Home conducts health talks and gives out condoms at some of its events, said Ms Pillai.

TWC2's Dr Noorashikin said: "They should be given all the information needed to make a decision, just like any other adult."

Report case to MOM

If a domestic helper becomes pregnant, her employer is expected to report it to the Manpower Ministry (MOM).

Employers will not forfeit the security bond bought before the helper arrived if they prove that they reported the pregnancy when they were first aware of it.

They must also show they informed the domestic helper of the conditions of her work permit - which include not becoming pregnant unless she is already married to a Singapore citizen or permanent resident with the approval of MOM.

Employers bear the cost of any medical treatment incurred by their domestic workers and must buy medical insurance for them with a minimum cover of $15,000 per year.

Baby conceived during maid's home leave
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 3 Dec 2015

Some domestic helpers get pregnant not while in Singapore, but while on holiday back home.

That was the case for Ms Arik, 38. In September this year, a month after she returned from a month-long holiday in Indonesia, she began complaining to her employer, Mr Luke Wong, of abdominal pains. It was only after visiting a doctor, going for a scan and being admitted to KK Women's and Children's Hospital that they found out she was pregnant.

She was about eight weeks pregnant and the timing made it clear that the baby was conceived with her husband, whom she had married four years earlier.

Instead of sending her home immediately, Mr Wong and his wife let her stay on in their house to rest.

"She was worried about the baby but we assured her that we would make sure everything is okay before she goes back," said Mr Wong, a 58-year-old marine officer with one son. He said: "The conditions in her kampung may not be so good. If anything goes wrong how would she go to a hospital?"

He appealed to the Ministry of Manpower to extend her stay and she was able to return home in the middle of October.

The Wongs keep in touch with the first-time mother-to-be, who hopes to return to work for them after having been with them for about 10 years.

"I like Singapore because my employers trust me like family," Ms Arik told The Straits Times through WhatsApp. "I must work hard to get money to look after my baby."

Said Mr Wong: "We're excited to find out the gender of the baby."

* Maid agencies to be graded by CASE and Manpower Ministry

Trustmark scheme, which aims to raise service standards, to be in place by December 2017
By Aw Cheng Wei and Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2016

In a move aimed at raising their service standards, maid agencies will be graded before they are allowed to renew their licences.

A scheme called Trustmark will be rolled out by December next year under which the agencies will be graded by the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

All agencies will need to be graded before they are allowed to renew their licences, said Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan at an industry seminar yesterday.

They will also have to display their grading certificates prominently on their premises.

Mr Tan said the ministry often receives complaints about how distressing it is for employers and maids when their expectations are not well matched.

He said: "When this happens, both the foreign domestic worker and the family feel highly stressed."

Mr Tan stressed that maid agencies have a vital role to play as an intermediary as they have to understand employers' household needs before matching them with a maid.

For example, a maid who does not want to work on Sundays will not be a good fit for a family with someone who needs constant attention.

Agencies should also help both employers and maids "set clear expectations upfront", he added.

At the Employment Agencies Seminar this morning, Minister of State (MOS) for Manpower Sam Tan emphasised the important...
Posted by Singapore Ministry of Manpower on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Even before Trustmark is rolled out, agencies will already be under the spotlight. In a scheme to be implemented by June, employers will be invited by SMS to rate an agency whose services they have used through an online survey that should take less than a minute to complete.

The system is developed by MOM, and employer feedback for each agency will be made public on the ministry's website after at least three ratings have been consolidated for that agency.

Maid agencies are now listed on the MOM's website with their number of years of experience, number of maids they placed, and the retention and transfer rate. The website also lists industry averages.

When the new initiatives are rolled out, employers will be able to see on MOM's website the grade and rating each agency receives.

Ms Carene Chin, who runs maid agency Homekeeper, said that with the new initiatives, she will focus not just on matching maids to employers but also services before and after the pairing.

These include providing correct biodata, ensuring there are no teething problems after the maid moves in, and that she is paid on time.

"Employers are not our only customers, maids are too," Ms Chin said, noting that happy maids can also mean better business for her firm as "word-of-mouth advertising is very strong" and maids tell each other about the good agencies and employers.

The Centre for Domestic Employees, an arm of the labour movement, welcomed the Trustmark scheme. Its executive director for operations, Ms Phyllis Lim, said it will foster more transparent and fair employment and recruitment practices.

It is also recommending that agencies adopt a model service contract between them and the employer. Terms to spell out include a detailed computation of placement cost, pay dates and bonus for contract renewal. Ms Lim said this will reduce misunderstanding.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, urged MOM to include maids' feedback on agencies and "let them have equal participation" when grading them as they, too, are paying customers.

The Straits Times understands that the Government is looking at including maids' feedback in the assessment criteria.

Employers are cheered by the schemes.

Operations executive Benson Wong, 32, who employed a maid last month to take care of his two- year-old son, said: "If I am not happy with the agency's service, I know how to make my concerns heard."

Employers' main complaint - poor service

By Joanna Seow and Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2016

Unsatisfactory services, including hidden transfer fees, a refusal to give refunds and a failure to honour contracts, is the main issue vexing employers when they deal with maid agencies.

Executive director for Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) Seah Seng Choon said that for the last three years, it had received an average of around 1,000 complaints a year.

Problems range from claims that a maid was proficient in English when she was not, to agents' refusal to give refunds to employers when maids run away.

A mother of two who gave her name as Ms Shan Shan said she hired an Indonesian maid in January whose biodata stated that she had no medical conditions.

However, after the maid went for her medical check-up here, she was diagnosed with high blood pressure.

When Ms Shan Shan asked the agent to take the maid back, she was told that the $2,600 deposit would be returned only if the maid found a new employer.

It was only after two months of negotiations that he relented and returned the money.

"I'm glad there's protection (for maids) from abuse by errant employers, but there also needs to be some protection for us," said Ms Shan Shan, 36.

The senior brand manager is currently taking a break from work to look after her children.

Mr Seah advised employers to consider engaging agencies accredited by the consumer watchdog as these are "committed to transparency and fair trading".

"Before signing the employment contract, (employers) should also read the terms and conditions carefully," he added.

"Verbal agreements not found in the standard contract should be committed in writing."

Bosses must now pay Filipino maids at least $550 a month

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