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Household chaos after maid flees

Domestic worker runs off after just two weeks, leaving baby alone in flat with door, gate ajar. -TNP
Foo Jie Ying

Wed, Feb 20, 2013
The New Paper

SINGAPORE - She returned to her flat and found her 10-month-old baby in her walker, crying and alone.

The front door and gate were ajar, with the keys dangling from the gate.

Her domestic helper, a 24-year-old Indonesian, was missing. That was only the start of Madam Norizan Rashid's headache.

She now has to pay for the helper, who insists on going home.

The technical support officer, 31, and her husband, Mr Noryzam Sufaat, 34, initially thought their helper was a good fit for the family. They had hired her from MNK employment agency after a two-month wait.

The helper had two years' experience caring for children back home - just the person they needed to care for their three children aged 10 months, two, and four.

But just two weeks after she was hired, the domestic worker walked out.

Madam Norizan said that on Jan 30, she had returned home from sending her four-year-old to the nursery when she was greeted by her baby's cries.

She said the helper appeared to have left in a hurry, leaving the iron still upright on the ironing board.

Mr Noryzam was just three days into his new job, but the technician had to quit to take care of the three children at home.

The couple was told there was no need to lodge a police report as nobody was hurt.

Gesturing at her 10-month-old daughter, Madam Norizan told The New Paper she was concerned her baby's safety was put at risk.

The couple claimed the maid had asked to be sent home just after four days of working, on the pretext of a heart problem.

They also found her diary in her pillowcase. In it, she repeatedly wrote about her wish to end her contract and go home.

Her last entry, when translated, carried the same message.

And the next day, she really ran away.

Mr Nasser B K, the general manager of MNK employment agency, said the maid had left for the Indonesian embassy to lodge a complaint.

Mr Nasser said that the agency had stepped in to mediate and the maid is now awaiting a transfer to another employer.

"She claimed she was tired from working, but wasn't allowed to rest. She wants to continue working in Singapore because that's what she came for, just not for the same family anymore," he said.

Disputes

When asked if such cases were common, Mr Nasser would only say that the agency tries to make sure that the maid is a perfect fit for the family and that they try to be selective about their customers to keep disputes to a minimum.

There are no official figures for the number of runaway maids in Singapore.

But as of December last year, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics shelter for women has about 60 runaway maids.

Mr John Gee, an executive committee member of migrants' organisation Transient Workers Count Too, called this case "extraordinary".

"The age of the worker and her experience, or lack of it, could affect her state of mind too.

"Older, more experienced workers tend to be able to take difficulties in their stride better, whereas a young woman away from home for the first time can find the transition very trying," said Mr Gee.

Legislating runaway maids is not easy, said Mr Zaqy Mohamad, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

He compared the situation to one of employees irresponsibly leaving the company.

"If the maid really wants to leave, there's no point in stopping her," he said.

For families who are stuck in a similar situation like Madam Norizan, Mr Zaqy suggested they turn to neighbours, if not family, for help in the interim.

"I think we should re-explore the concept of kampung spirit. When I was young, I remember my neighbours babysitting me while my parents were busy," he said.

Other alternatives include part-time helpers and childcare, which may not be accessible to low-income families, he said.

The Ministry of Manpower suggests that employers approach the employment agency to help speed up the process of hiring a new foreign domestic helper.

But once bitten, twice shy.

"The problem now, is that I'm afraid to take a maid," said Madam Norizan.


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