24 Sep 2005

Do Housemaids Need a Day Off?

This is an easy question to answer. YES. They deserve it the same as every other worker in Singapore. Worrying about what an adult does on his or her day off has nothing to do with the employer. Maids do not require special treatment nor protection from preditors outside the home as most abuse takes place within the home.

RIGHTS-SINGAPORE:
Do Housemaids Need a Day Off?
Stanislaus Jude Chan


SINGAPORE, Sep 24 (IPS) - Gruesome as it was, the discovery of the severed head and limbs of a Filipino housemaid, abandoned in a travel bag on fashionable Orchard Road, has rekindled an old debate on whether foreign domestic workers in this affluent city-state should get a weekly day off or not.

The immediate concern in businesslike Singapore, following the Sep. 9 discovery, was that the rather overworked 'Maid in Singapore' headlines were beginning to overshadow the 'Uniquely Singapore' campaign slogan, carefully crafted for the tourism department.

There were few tears shed for Jane Parangan La Puebla and none for Guen Garlejo Aguilar, arrested for the murder of her compatriot and 'best friend'. They were just more trouble than the usual run of 'havoc maids'.

But the scene was different in the Philippines where demonstrations were mounted in front of the Singapore embassy demanding that Aguilar gets a fair trial and justice. Parallels were drawn with the controversial hanging of Flor Contemplacion for the murder of fellow domestic worker Delia Maga, a decade ago.

Contemplacion's execution strained relations between Singapore and the Philippines and caused many Filipinos to vent their frustration at governments in both countries that were, seemingly, not doing enough to prevent the abuse and stress that are the lot of Filipino overseas workers.

This time, Manila appealed for calm, urging local media to cease sensational reporting on the La Puebla murder. ''I appeal for sobriety from everyone and not to come to rash conclusions on the basis of media reports or stories being circulated,'' Philippine Ambassador to Singapore Belen Anota was quoted by newspapers as saying.

Officials fear the sensational reports could stir up public sentiment and set off an unwarranted reaction against Singapore--though there was relief that this was a case of one Filipino maid allegedly killing another, rather than extreme violence between Singaporean employers and foreign domestic help.

Singapore courts frequently hear cases of housemaid abuse--or those concerning retaliatory murder, the usual plea of defence lawyers on behalf of their clients being that they were driven to homicide after suffering extreme abuse.

Last month, Singapore's image as a destination for foreign job-seekers took yet another beating when homemaker, Sazarina Madzin was arrested for the abuse of her Indonesian maid, Wiwik Setyowati, last year.

The 28-year-old Madzin was charged on 80 counts of abuse, including bludgeoning her hapless victim, Setyowati, with an assortment of household items, including shoes, a tomato sauce bottle and a plastic chopping board.

Apart from fines, Madzin now faces seven years in prison for threatening to kill her employee.

On the other hand, two Indonesian maids who robbed and killed their employer Esther Ang were found guilty of manslaughter last month but escaped the death sentence.

The judge determined that Juminem, 20, ''was suffering from a psychiatric disorder of a depressive nature'' and awarded her a life sentence, while he sent 17-year-old Siti Aminah to ten years in prison after noting that she was only 15 at the time of the crime and that she was ''intellectually and psychologically immature''.

The three cases in the space of a month have dented Singapore's reputation as a safe and lawful city, besides leading to concern over the treatment of migrant workers here.

There are currently some 150,000 foreign maids working in Singapore. Most of them are from the Philippines and Indonesia, with the rest from Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand.

But more than 27 years after foreign domestic helpers first started working in Singapore, debate on issues like whether maids should get a day off and also how much they should be paid, continues.

Filipino maids, who can converse in English, usually receive around 215 US dollars a month while Sri Lankans rate less at 150 dollars. Indonesians get paid around 120 dollars, slightly more than the 117-dollar levy that employers must pay the government per worker.

The wages seem exploitative in a country with one of the most affluent societies in Asia and having a per capita monthly income exceeding 2,000 dollars. And for round-the-clock work.

''Even machines need rest,'' says Filipino domestic worker Ellen Elancanal, who has been here for eight years. ''We work so many hours. We must have a day a week, whichever way we want to spend it''. She gets to spend her Sundays with a church choir, or helping fellow workers in trouble.

''Not giving people time off can make people disgruntled and stressed,'' said Helen Tan, spokeswoman for the Association of Employment Agencies, Singapore.

But many employers are wary of 'social problems' and choose to keep their maids at home.

Employers in Singapore risk forfeiting a 3,000 dollar-security bond if the maid goes missing--or if they fail to repatriate her at the end of the contract or in the event of pregnancy.

''They (domestic helpers) know that if they do that (get pregnant), they stand to lose everything. It's not in their interest to jeopardise the money they send home to their families,'' said Braema Mathi, president of Transient Workers Count Too, an agency defending the human rights of workers here.

''If employers are worried about pregnancy, then workers should have sex education. We can't control human behaviour to that extent and say that we are protecting her by not giving her a day off''.

On the ground though, many employers are sceptical about days off. ''They have boyfriends and all that!'' says Mary Lee, 58, a Singaporean homemaker who has employed several domestic workers over the last two decades.

''Some even go to Geylang (Singapore's red-light district) and earn extra cash, you know? We can't control the maids, so it's best that when we employ the maid, we tell the agent we don't want to give days off,'' Lee said.

Fear of 'social problems' causes employers to deny maids a day off and the stress of working without a break results in pent-up frustrations that create rather than solve a delicate problems which can be tackled on with responsibility and understanding.

''The bold maids are often those who have worked here for some time. Their employers trust them and some abuse their privileges,'' said Alice Cheah, owner of the Singapore agency, 'Caregivers Centre', stressing that 'havoc maids' are in the minority.

''Maids should be given days off. It'd be unhealthy psychologically if the maids are cooped up in the house every day. If the maids treasure their jobs, they will behave well,'' Cheah said.


16 comments:

Anonymous said...

This must depends But I agree that they should be given a day off

raja negeri singapura darul melayu said...

Filipinos Must die slowly and painfully, no excuses!

ye said...

first they're under paid, next people want to talk about not giving a day off ,how about just keeping a slave?

LuckySingaporean said...

http://happycitizen.blogspot.com

It is not true people need a day rest. They get to rest every night. Many Singapore taxi drivers work every single day to make ends meet.

Singaporeans have learned well from their govt how to treat these maids. It is for their own good to stay in everyday, they need to be protected from bad influence outside that may led them astray. That is why some employers don't allow them to use the telephones because who knows what comes through those calls.

Anonymous said...

No wonder SGP is a developing country... It doesn't earn this name for nothing...

Mr Wang Says So said...

Ye:

Maids are not paid as lowly as it may seem to be. If you look at the total package, they probably earn more than the average Singaporean amah or cleaner.

Don't forget that the maid's accommodation, food, water and electricity, daily necessities etc are provided by the employer; and the maid also incurs no transportation costs relating to travelling to and from work.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

Of course maids need a day off not just to rest but to unwind and have a change of environment and to socialise with their own kind. Besides that, they should have a room of their own and so that at the end of the day, they have their own private space.

However, once your maid goes off regularly, be prepared for trouble as they get to mix with and give your home telephone number to all kinds of people out there.

When my previous maid left after working 4 years with us, I got a lot of phone calls from a Bangladeshi guy, using a prepaid card, insisting on speaking to her. When I told him she is no longer with us, he got very angry. He refused to believe me, and said he wanted to ask her why she asked her boy friend to beat him up. This went on for months. Each time he got more aggressive and even made veiled threats. For example, he said he knew I have a young daughter who comes back from school in the afternoons. He also knows my car no. and told me to watch out for accidents.

I reported twice to the police but they said this was a nuisance call and they cannot do anything unless I approached judge to issue a court order.

Sometimes he would call at night and hang up after we pick up the phone; doing it repeatedly until I hung up the phone. Fortunately, he did not have my handphone no.

I could have easily retaliated by getting all my friends to call his handphone, or programming my computer to call his handphone non stop. But I did not and subsequently he stopped.

This is only one example. I had another case where this Phillippino girl called us asking us to stop our maid from going after her boyfriend.

There are lots of other stories, but I think you get the idea. When it comes to employing a maid, the employer-employee relationship is not so straight-forward.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

Of course maids need a day off not just to rest but to unwind and have a change of environment and to socialise with their own kind. Besides that, they should have a room of their own and so that at the end of the day, they have their own private space.

However, once your maid goes off regularly, be prepared for trouble as they get to mix with and give your home telephone number to all kinds of people out there.

When my previous maid left after working 4 years with us, I got a lot of phone calls from a Bangladeshi guy, using a prepaid card, insisting on speaking to her. When I told him she is no longer with us, he got very angry. He refused to believe me, and said he wanted to ask her why she asked her boy friend to beat him up. This went on for months. Each time he got more aggressive and even made veiled threats. For example, he said he knew I have a young daughter who comes back from school in the afternoons. He also knows my car no. and told me to watch out for accidents.

I reported twice to the police but they said this was a nuisance call and they cannot do anything unless I approached judge to issue a court order.

Sometimes he would call at night and hang up after we pick up the phone; doing it repeatedly until I hung up the phone. Fortunately, he did not have my handphone no.

I could have easily retaliated by getting all my friends to call his handphone, or programming my computer to call his handphone non stop. But I did not and subsequently he stopped.

This is only one example. I had another case where this Phillippino girl called us asking us to stop our maid from going after her boyfriend.

There are lots of other stories, but I think you get the idea. When it comes to employing a maid, the employer-employee relationship is not so straight-forward.

Anonymous said...

Maids are not paid as lowly as it may seem to be. If you look at the total package, they probably earn more than the average Singaporean amah or cleaner.

Don't forget that the maid's accommodation, food, water and electricity, daily necessities etc are provided by the employer; and the maid also incurs no transportation costs relating to travelling to and from work.


Sure. That must explain why so many Singaporeans want to be maids as well.

Anonymous said...

I had a wonderful maid (Aunt D) who lived with us for four years, went back to her children for 2 yrs, and came back for another four. We still think of her fondly. However, a friend she introduced to us went to clubs on her day off and drank with men. They even came to the house, and we wouldn't have known had it not been for my then-toddler brother who said something about seeing a man.

Lesson? You can't generalise across the board, McDermott. Human to human relationships are always complex. If working in Singapore were such a torture, Aunt D wouldn't have willingly come back. Maids become rich when they bring their earnings back, and if they manage their funds well they become restaurant owners and they manage to build their own houses.

There are Singaporeans who ruin our name, just as there are maids who want to bring men back to the house when their employers aren't in. That doesn't mean that all maids are indecent, or that all SG employers are maid abusers.

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