SINGAPORE - Just over a third of maids who started working in Singapore last year received a weekly rest day.
The Manpower Ministry (MOM) said yesterday that of some 2,000 who were surveyed, 37 per cent had one rest day a week.
The rule mandating one rest day per week or compensation in lieu kicked in on Jan 1 last year.
Three years ago, only 13 per cent of some 900 maids surveyed received a weekly rest day, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Hawazi Daipi in Parliament, calling the change "encouraging".
The ministry also found that 61 per cent of the maids interviewed received at least one rest day a month, up from 53 per cent in the 2010 survey.
Mr Hawazi said that from Jan 1 next year, all maids will be on new employment contracts that will have to abide by the weekly rest day requirement. Contracts last for two years.
"A rest day provides (maids) with a reprieve from their duties, much like how all of us Singaporeans need a break from our work," he said, adding that MOM would continue to work with partners to provide avenues for maids to spend their rest days productively.
Although the improvement was heartening, Nominated MP Eugene Tan said that "at 37 per cent for what is supposed to be a mandatory rest day... the figure is actually quite low".
He and MP Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) asked how the "unequal" bargaining positions of maids and employers could be managed.
Replying, Mr Hawazi said: "There are avenues for them to resolve their differences."
For example, employers and maids can seek assistance from the employment agency that oversaw the rest day agreement, or from MOM.
Earlier, Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin revealed that the number of maids whom the ministry helped last year was almost a third lower than the average in the previous two years, while the number of foreign workers assisted had halved. This is despite both populations growing.
The number of maids whom MOM helped fell to fewer than 500 last year, down from around 700 each in the previous two years. Salary disputes and illegal deployment were prevalent issues.
MOM also assisted around 7,000 foreign workers last year, down from 14,000 each in the previous two years. Employment- related issues formed the top cause for complaint, and included claims for salary or overtime payments. These made up about half of the cases.
A spokesman for the ministry said that the bulk of the decrease for this group was due to far fewer instances of unacceptable housing, such as unapproved factories housing large numbers of foreign workers.
More local workers, however, approached MOM for help in resolving issues related to employment and work injury compensation.
The ministry saw around 3,800 such cases last year, up from an average of 3,400 each in the previous two years.
Mr Tan said this could be due to increased awareness among workers. "We have stepped up our efforts to ensure workers understand their rights considerably and I think this is the impact of that," he said.
This article was published on April 15 in The Straits Times.
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