SINGAPORE - Only about a third of newer maids here get their mandatory weekly day off, and both employers and maids are responsible for the poor record.
Despite the requirement taking effect in January last year, some bosses here remain reluctant to comply, especially if they have had constant help at home, said employment agents.
They are supported, in some cases, by maids who prefer to be compensated instead of resting, because they want to earn more money.
"Most employers get a maid not as a luxury, but because they need the service for their family, for example to take care of aged family members," said Ms Carene Chin, managing director of maid agency Homekeeper.
Mr Jack Khoo, owner of WorldAsia Employment Agency, said seven in 10 employers ask him whether they can not give a day off. "But when we tell them it's a rule, they'll comply."
Some employers use the $5,000 security bond as an excuse, saying that if the maid goes out and misbehaves, they will lose the money, said Best Home Employment Agency owner Tay Khoon Beng.
"But it's not a good reason, because certain aspects of the rules have been relaxed," he added.
The Manpower Ministry said in Parliament on Monday that, of 2,000 maids surveyed who had come to Singapore to work for the first time last year, 37 per cent were receiving weekly days off, and 61 per cent received at least one day off per month.
The low take-up may also be because maids themselves request to get extra cash instead of days off. This is especially so in their first year because they want to pay off the placement fee, agents said.
"Most of them are very happy to get compensation in lieu and not go out at all, especially when they are still clearing their loan," said Madam Netty Chu, who owns Great Helpers.
Still, some agents remain optimistic that things will get better, especially as basic salaries are on the rise.
"There is a change - a lot of employers would rather not pay more, and would rather their maids go out," said Madam Chu.
Mr Tay said that the 37 per cent figure was a good one, as it has been only a year. "Maybe, by next year, it will shoot up," he added.
As contracts last two years, all maids will be on new contracts that have to abide by the new rule by January.
Executive assistant Michelle Teo, for instance, said she gives her maid a day off every week. "After a few days of hard work, it's time for her to take a break and go out. I trust her and I don't ask her who she mixes with," she said.
On their days off, maids can enjoy new facilities like a clubhouse set up by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training. About 200 maids have signed up so far.
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.
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