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Should maids get a day off every week?
Should maids get a day off every week?

MOM seeks feedback from public and other stakeholders

SINGAPORE - The perennial debate between employers and welfare groups has been reignited, as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday that it will consult employers, agencies and non-government organisations whether to make it compulsory for foreign domestic workers (FDWs) to be given a rest day every week.

In an email reply to MediaCorp queries, the MOM added that it is reviewing the current flexible arrangement whereby domestic helpers are allowed regular rest days or compensation in lieu. The MOM did not give a timeline for the consultation period and members of the public can email their views and suggestions to [email protected]

The review comes after Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob said on Sunday that Singapore should consider making it compulsory for employers to give maids a rest day every week.

Currently, instead of mandating rest days, the Government has adopted a more flexible approach of allowing households to work out a mutually agreed arrangement with their maids, and encouraging employers to grant their workers regular rest days.

Accredited employment agencies use a standard employment contract for maids, which requires employers to stipulate the number of rest days each month. Should the maids agree to work on their rest day, employers are required to pay them an agreed amount of compensation, usually between S$20 and S$50.

Maid employment agencies cautioned that a mandatory rest day every week would not go down well with employers.

Ms Joanne Lee, director of JL Employment Services, said such a move would inconvenience employers. "I would say most employers may not be in favour of this. I guess ... during their rest days, they would want their helpers to be around to take care of their needs," she said.

But Dr Russell Heng, president of Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said: "The whole idea of giving FDWs a day off is ... linked to a lot of other psychological and emotional problems (they face) ... abuse that doesn't get reported because they don't have the means to go out and meet people ... they don't know how to report."

Asked about possible obstacles to the review, given the traditional resistance shown by employers, Dr Heng said: "There will always be people who will say no, but as a Government, you should show moral leadership."

He cited places such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, where regulations are in place for mandated days off, and "things have not gone amuck in those places".

TWC2 last Friday called on Singapore to ratify "speedily" the new International Labour Organisation convention that grants domestic workers greater protection from exploitation.

Singapore was among 63 countries which abstained from voting on the convention, and the MOM has said it would sign the treaty only when it was sure it could implement it here.

Madam Jeradine Ho, a maid employer who also runs her own maid agency, said employers are worried about the security bond payable should their maids breach certain work permit conditions while they are not under supervision.

In its response, the MOM noted that it has removed employers' liability for the breaches since January last year.

Under the current security bond conditions, employers need only to inform FDWs that they are required to comply with the conditions and report the FDWs if they are aware of any breaches.

"Even in the extreme case where the FDW absconds and the employer is unable to repatriate her, only half of the security bond will be forfeited, so long as the employer has made reasonable efforts to locate the worker," said the MOM.

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