SINGAPORE, March 9 (Reuters) - Singapore's government has rejected calls to give foreign maids a mandatory rest day -- a standard practice for workers covered by its Employment Act -- because such time off could "inconvenience" many households. New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) last year urged Singapore to provide better legal protection for foreign maids.
By excluding maids from its Employment Act, Singapore's labour laws failed to comply with international law, it said, urging Singapore to follow Hong Kong's example by protecting maids' rights to a weekly rest day and a minimum wage.
But Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower, Hawazi Daipi, told parliament on Wednesday that prescribing minimum employment terms and conditions for maids would inevitably lead to "rigidities and inconvenience" for many families.
"Some households have elderly or infirm members with special needs who require constant attention and may find it difficult to release the domestic worker for a prescribed period every week," Daipi said.
About one in six households in Singapore employs a foreign maid, enabling couples to work and raise families. About 160,000 such workers -- mainly from Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka -- are currently employed in the city-state.
The Ministry of Manpower, which said the HRW report grossly exaggerated the abuse and lack of rights of maids in Singapore, urged consumer watchdog bodies and maid agencies to produce standard employment contracts to include terms such as rest days.
"Employers are held responsible for the well-being of their foreign domestic workers, including the provision of adequate rest," said Daipi.
Employers who breach these work permit conditions can be fined up to S$5,000 and served with a jail term of up to six months, he added.