SINGAPORE- This is the year that foreign maids are granted what globally is a basic labour right - a weekly rest day, which Singaporeans and other foreign workers already get under the Employment Act.
Foreign maids hired from Jan 1 must be given a weekly day off or be compensated a day's wages instead.
Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that many employers prefer to compensate their maids rather than give them that rest day.
Checks by The Straits Times with six maid agencies in January showed that 70 per cent of their 400 or so new customers employing maids were not likely to give them rest days at all until they had proven themselves to be trustworthy.
Among maids with contracts signed before Jan 1, less than half have any days off, Mr John Gee of migrant worker organisation Transient Workers Count Too wrote in a newspaper commentary in July.
While the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) intends the rest day requirement to cover all maids by 2015, it would not amount to much if large numbers of employers take the get-out clause offered by compensation.
I employ a live-in Filipino maid and give her a weekly rest day even though her contract, signed last year, stipulates one day off a month. I find the resistance of many Singaporean employers towards giving rest days disturbing.
The sticking point seems to be fear that the maid will get up to no good on her day off. The spectre of her absconding or getting pregnant is often raised, for which the employer could risk forfeiting all or part of a $5,000 security bond.
Signed with the Government, it makes the employer responsible for her upkeep and good behaviour, feeding into a very calculating mindset on the part of employers in managing risks and extracting the most out of the maid.
Perhaps in recognition of these sentiments, MOM has clarified on its website that if a maid becomes pregnant and loses her permit to work here, the employer who reports her will not lose the security deposit.