Maids to get weekly rest days

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) introduced today a mandatory rest day for foreign domestic workers.

Under this new requirement - which will apply to foreign domestic workers whose work permits are issued or renewed from Jan 1, 2013 - employers and their worker can mutually agree on which day of the week the rest day falls.

If the employer would like the worker to work on her rest day, he should come to a mutual agreement with her on the number of rest days to forgo each month.

For each rest day forgone, the worker shall be compensated with at least one day's wage on top of her monthly salary.

Instead of monetary compensation, the employer can also choose to give his worker a replacement rest day which shall fall within the same month.

For existing foreign domestic workers, this new regulation will not apply to the remaining tenure of their work permit.

Some employers who have difficulties giving their domestic worker a weekly rest day, such as those with elderly family members, might be eligible for the new $120 monthly foreign domestic worker grant announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech.

This grant is over and above the existing $95 monthly levy concession enjoyed by all households with elderly members above 65, young children under 12 years or disabled members.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said in a speech in Parliament today that a weekly rest day is regarded internationally as a basic labour right, and that local workers and non-domestic foreign workers already enjoy this right under the Employment Act.

He said that Singapore is among the few receiving countries of foreign domestic workers with no provisions for weekly rest days, and this regulation is also expected to enhance Singapore's attractiveness as a destination for quality and experienced workers.

"More than just physical rest, a rest day provides the foreign domestic worker with an emotional and mental break from work. This helps to improve their productivity at work, and reduce the likelihood of management problems," said Mr Tan.

Approximately 206,000 migrant women are currently employed in Singapore as domestic workers and one in five Singapore families currently hire one.

MOM's move follows a year-long review of the foreign domestic worker management framework, including a study of relevant stakeholders.

Migrant workers rights group the Migrant Workers' Centre (MWC) welcomed the new measures.

Mr Edwin Pang, Executive Director of MWC said: "The MWC lauds the legislative amendment introduced by MOM to grant a rest day weekly for all foreign workers including foreign domestic workers (FDW).

"This move is in line with basic international labour standards and the new ILO Convention 189. We see the amendment as one that can only be positive for FDWs' physical and psychological well-being."

The Singapore Committee for UN Women also applauded the government on requiring a rest day per week for foreign domestic workers.

In a research conducted last year by the non-profit organisation, key findings revealed that maids work an average of 14 hours per day and only 12 per cent have at least one day off per week.

Employers who give their maids a day off tend to couch it in terms of employment rights, while those who do not give their maids a day off express the fear that the maid may fall into bad company.

However, over 70 per cent of the respondents who do not employ a maid shared the view that they should be given a weekly day off.

The Singapore Committee for UN Women said that their main recommendation was addressed and hope that employers will exercise the new regulation and that employment agencies will promote the new requirement.

Ms Trina Liang Lin, President of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, said: "We are happy to note that Singapore is taking a significant step forward towards matching domestic laws and policies with international labour standards."