Singapore ministry: Employers required to give maids at least one rest day a month from end-2022; day-off can’t be compensated away

Domestic helpers at Lucky Plaza on their day off in Singapore May 2, 2021. — Picture by Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY
Domestic helpers at Lucky Plaza on their day off in Singapore May 2, 2021. — Picture by Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

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SINGAPORE, July 22 — From the end of 2022, employers will be required to give their domestic helpers at least one rest day a month that cannot be compensated away, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said today.

And from the third quarter of this year, doctors must record the body mass index of domestic workers, and check for signs of suspicious and unexplained injuries, as part of the workers’ half-yearly medical examination. This is to better detect signs of abuse.

These are among several moves announced by MOM to improve support for domestic workers and boost their well-being.

Currently, domestic workers are entitled to a weekly rest day. They may work on their rest day, but must be compensated with at least one day of salary or be allowed to reschedule their rest day within the same month.

In a press release today, the ministry said that these efforts were aimed at helping both domestic workers and employers settle smoothly into a mutually beneficial working relationship.

“We recognise that migrant domestic workers may face challenges in adjusting to work and life in Singapore. Similarly, employers may also face difficulties in accommodating a new person into their household.”

The rest day will give domestic helpers more opportunities to form a network, and to recharge from work.

The ministry said that it also wants to detect signs of abuse more quickly and help domestic workers build a support network beyond their households.

The new measures follow a spate of high-profile cases of domestic helper abuse.

In June, housewife Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 40, was jailed for 30 years for viciously abusing her 24-year-old Myanmarese domestic helper to death in 2016.

In May, administrative employee Tan Hui Mei, 35, was jailed for eight weeks for hitting, slapping and harassing her 26-year-old Indonesian domestic worker.

As part of the measures introduced by MOM, employment agencies will also be required to conduct post-placement checks to ensure that domestic workers and employers are adjusting well and offer support if needed from the fourth quarter of this year.

MOM will also interview domestic workers twice in their first year of work, up from once currently.

“This will provide migrant domestic workers and their employers with more opportunities to raise and resolve issues, and settle into their working relationship,” said the ministry.

To facilitate the in-person interviews, MOM will set up three neighbourhood centres in partnership with the Centre for Domestic Employees. The first centre is scheduled to be operational by the first quarter of next year.

NGOs welcome measures, but say they can be strengthened

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) welcomed MOM’s latest measures, but said that there was room to tighten these measures to prevent abuse by employers.

Alex Au, vice-president of migrant rights group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) said that the mandatory day off every month for helpers was “better than nothing” but called on the ministry to clarify how it will detect employers who do not allow their helpers out.

A spokesperson from Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) added that the NGO hopes to see an increased frequency of mandatory rest days for domestic workers so that they can seek timely help if abused.

The organisation also noted that many domestic workers who are subjected to abuse do not have access to mobile phones. It called for regulations to allow workers access to their phones during meal times, rest times and after work hours.

Au said that on top of requiring doctors to conduct additional checks on domestic helpers, employers should also be barred from medical consultations to ensure confidentiality between the helper and the doctor.

Au also called on MOM to interview domestic workers thrice, rather than twice in their first year. The first interview should also be conducted within the first month of the helper’s employment, he added.

“If the poor helper has to wait six months before somebody contacts her, it will be a long period of suffering under a bad employer,” he said.

The post-placement checks by employment agencies should also be done throughout the entire duration of a helper’s employment as cases of extreme abuse usually result from an escalation of practices and behaviours by employers, said the Home spokesperson. — TODAY

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