Safe keeping of maids’ pay can be tricky

Safe keeping of maids’ pay can be tricky
Mrs Felicia Wong pays her domestic worker, Ms Nurhaniyah, through a bank account and keeps her bank card for her, at the latter’s request. Ms Nurhaniyah says she is worried she will misplace the card and has no concerns about the arrangement as she trusts her employers.

About 600 complaints from maids about non-payment of salaries were received by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) each year for the last two years, and most involved safe keeping of the money.

Releasing the figures in response to queries from The Straits Times, MOM reiterated that it discourages safe keeping of pay by employers, to minimise misunderstandings and avoid disputes.

Earlier last month, a Singaporean woman was fined $32,000 - the highest so far - for not paying her maid for more than a year. During the two-day trial, Tang Lee Sung, 39, said Ms Astrilia Agustin had agreed to Tang's mother keeping her salary for her and paying her later.

But Tang and her mother did not pay Ms Astrilia when her employment contract ended as they claimed that she did not perform her tasks well. The arrears amounted to more than $5,700.

According to regulations, employers have to pay domestic workers their salaries no later than seven days after the last day of the salary period, which cannot exceed one month.

While safe keeping is a private arrangement, the salary must still be paid in full when the helper asks for it, said MOM.

Failure to do so is tantamount to unlawful withholding of salary, and the employer could be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned for up to a year.

As of June last year, there were 218,300 foreign maids in Singapore.

Out of 10 maids whom The Straits Times spoke to, five said they sign a document drawn up by their employers or employment agencies on their payday but do not receive the cash upfront.

Ms Tini, 23, from Indonesia said: "I ask my (employer) for the money to send back and she will give it to me, or else she keeps." According to the Indonesian Embassy, more than $227,000 in unpaid salaries was owed to domestic workers last year.

Some cases are still being investigated by the embassy, MOM and employment agencies, said counsellor Sukmo Yuwono. "Many employers still do not pay on time."

Mr John Gee, research head of Transient Workers Count Too, agreed: "It's a persistent problem."

Last year, MOM took action against 58 employers who did not pay their maids. The number is down from 72 in 2013. But employers generally comply with the law, the ministry said.

More than 70 maids have sought the help of Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics since the start of the year, said its executive director, Mr Jolovan Wham. It saw 76 cases for the same issue last year.

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