Maids in Singapore: modern slavery?

In some countries only those on Forbes list or who are wealthy are able to afford a maid but in Singapore even average families can afford one.

Sadly, for a pittance these maids have to slave from the crack of dawn to late at night. 

Some employers exploit their maids by forcing them to become their full time car washers. Two for the price of one thing? Shame on them!

Even more appalling and shocking is that there are maids who work 7 days a week throughout the year without a day off. 

It may be excusable if there’s an invalid in the family who needs round the clock care. Even then a maid should not be turned into a full time nurse.

But I know of families with able-bodied members with such modern day slaves pampering to their whims and fancies. It’s ludicrous to suggest they are totally incapacitated without a maid once a week.

Maids are also human beings requiring a rest day, social interactions, relaxation with friends and communications with loved ones in
their home countries.

Of course, I’m speaking in general terms. 

I’ve read of exemplary employers who pay for their maids’ further education, driving lessons  and one who even willed her apartment to her maid.  

I salute these employers but they are few and far between. 

Singapore should make a day off as mandatory for maids. 

Let it not be staple of gossip in the kampungs and villages of these maids’ home countries that a modern and progressive nation like Singapore treats their daughters like modern day slaves.

Naturally,the modern slave drivers in our midst will oppose this.

Perhaps, the acid test is whether you yourself are willing to work without a day off 365 days a year.

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17 Responses to “Maids in Singapore: modern slavery?”

  1. Domestic workers are not workers, otherwise they will have the Employment Act to protect them.

    Certainly maids do not need to squeeze buses and mrt every morning and evening, work under the sun is minimal, food and lodging provided. If the family is on holiday or weekend outing, the maid does get some leeway.

    Glad to say, Singaporeans on the whole are not bent on exploiting them. Those who work 7 days a week with no overtime pay are few and far in between.

  2. Roger, if I’m not wrong, white-collar executives suffer the same problem. Just like maids, they are bound by contractual agreement, not Employment Act. There is no mandatory rest day and the responsibilities are always stated as “not limited to ..”

    Domestic workers have more flexible working arrangement. Some employers pay them for working on their rest-day. Will the company pay the white-collar executive for a burnt weekend?

    So at the end of the day, it boils down to that contractual agreement. Like the gahman likes to say, leave it to “market forces”, don’t regulate 😛

  3. iceman, don’t talk rubbish. if you don’t like your boss or your work, you give 1 month notice and find another job. can a maid do that?

    yes, the maids have a contract, but its only for show, how to enforce? if they tell the employer, look you have breached the terms of the contract, next moment they are on the next flight home.

    the govt says leave it to market forces, that’s meant for professionals like you who understand your rights and able to negotiate terms with your employer. for a maid its “take it or leave it”.

    the govt does not want to regulate maid terms simply because they don’t believe in human rights or that maids are not human beings, just look at the conditions of the work permit.

  4. If the Singapore government shows greater respect for human rights, it would legislate a day off for maids. But it chooses to quibble on this issue with the ludicrous excuse that some families would be inconvenienced.

    In Hong Kong, where maid wages are much higher, domestic helpers are entitled to a day off a week and on public days.

  5. Yaala, can’t you see I was being partly sarcastic?

    The govt and maids are not the only stakeholders in this issue. When Malaysians wanted to legislate a day off for domestic workers, guess what .. its people complained! example Point is instead of blaming the govt, we should also see where the employers are coming from. When maids become slaves in our first world nation, we blame the government?

    • It’s not a question of blame but rather that the government should do the right thing. Its reason for not legislating is flimsy. Hong Kong people also face the same daily work grind and stresses but the government legislated that domestic helpers are entitled to a day off a week. It’s illogical that a worker here has a day or even two days off a week but we deny our maids the same rights.

      • Doing the right thing does not mean coming out with ad-hoc solutions. IMHO, the gahman should view the problem holistically. Like in Malaysia (and Singapore), one gripe is employers have to pay maid levy. From the article I quoted, the maid levy was used as a reason to justify why maids shouldn’t get day off. Does HK have maid levy?

      • But the problem is that, if the Government completely went off message and did the right thing for the maids, then even more pressure would build for them to do the right thing for others. And then where would The Minister and His Cronies be? (Sadly, not a failed ’80s punk-rock group, but Your PAP.)

        Human rights is THE key. And the PAP Government have decided, rationally enough, that if they start treating one customarily-exploited group with a minimum of human decency, then that runs an “unacceptable” risk of “opening the floodgates” to where everyone will have to be treated well, to share equally in the bounty of Singapore that has thus far been reserved for a tiny rounding error of a minority. As soon as fear and arbitrary division are taken out of the playbook, what’s left for them then?

      • The root of the problem lies in the repressive nature of the government isn’t it?

      • @RogerPoh at 6.14pm: Yes, but that too is just a symptom of the root cause. Why does this Government have a “repressive nature”? Simply because that’s the way that has always worked until now for most effectively accumulating wealth and power in our lords and masters, The Minister and His Cronies. Had they not such insatiable greed, lust for power, or egos that demanded they be acknowledged as “more clever than anyone else”, the repressive governing style would be not merely unnecessary, but more trouble than it’s worth.

        And I wish WordPress would get around to blessing one of the fixes for the design defect that only lets comments have a single level of replies!

  6. Yes, like us Hong Kong has levy and bond but therein the similarities end as maids there get a day off. And what’s even more astonishing is that they can hold demonstrations to fight for their rights, something that’s enough to give some a cardiac arrest.

  7. I think the HK maid levy is waived till 2013 (from wikipedia). Yea, I was shocked when HK maids demonstrated to ask for higher minimum wage!

  8. Update: media reports say only 1 in 10 indonesian maids choose to work in Singapore.

  9. To continue with the Singapore-vs-Hong-Kong comparison that seems to be the elephant in this particular room, why is Hong Kong so much more inclusive and respectful of its people than Singapore? Both are recently-former British colonies, both have important economic backbones in common (e.g., banksters)… yet nearly every foreigner I know working here would give anything short of their firstborn to work in Hong Kong rather than here. And Singapore has the audacity to make its underpaid serfs pay ruinous fees (2+ months’ pay, anyone?) to Government-sanctioned middlemen?

    If this is the best that ‘civilisation’ can do here, then by all means, bring on anarchy. It is far too likely to be less hurtful to those at the bottom of the current pile.

    • The crucial difference is that the ruling party wants to rule in perpetuity, and to
      do that they have to be repressive. Ironically the National Pledge that students recite every morning across the nation “…pledge ourselves to BUILD A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY…”. After more than 40 years, the PAP is still light years away from this objective.

      • They’re not merely “light years away from this objective” but going in the opposite direction as quickly as can be made to appear proper in State-run media. And any student of history would be able to tell you that such repressive régimes don’t last “forever”; that isn’t even the goal here. The goal is for the régime to outlive its founding beneficiaries and their closest cronies. Once it achieves that goal, Singapore can go to hell in a handbasket, or up in smoke, and those beneficiaries won’t give a damn; it will have served its purpose. Every Singaporean should be driven to change by the utter contempt which that attitude shows for them; alas, the national motto appears to be “Sit Down and Shut Up!”

  10. By now you’d have read that a weekly day off has been legislated. Cheers!

    I understand there’s unhappiness in some quarters. I can empathise with them.

    But this is for the greater good.


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