Improve maids' work conditions, experts urge

Singapore may have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to draw 100,000 more foreign maids by 2030 - if it does not do anything about work conditions and match what employers elsewhere are offering.

This is the view of agents, academics and migrant worker activists, reacting to estimates released in an occasional paper by the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) last week.

There were 208,400 maids in June this year compared to 198,000 at the end of last year.

Most come from Indonesia and the Philippines.

The experts pointed out that apart from maids flocking to Taiwan and Hong Kong for better working conditions, the countries they come from have also made it harder to source for maids.

The NPTD paper indeed noted that even if demand goes up, it might not necessarily be met, as the maid supply could be curbed by growing demand elsewhere.

It estimated Singapore will need 300,000 maids by 2030 based on an expected rise in resident households with young or elderly members, and those where both spouses work.

Of all resident households with at least one maid last year, seven in 10 had both spouses working and three-quarters had young and/or elderly family members.

More elderly, non-working households are also hiring - 12 per cent of such households had maids last year, up from 6 per cent in 2000.

Agents said the opening up of new sources for maids such as Cambodia can help meet some of the demand.

But they foresee that Indonesia and the Philippines will remain as top draws because their citizens have a relatively stronger command of English.

But maids from Indonesia and the Philippines are similarly coveted in Hong Kong and Taiwan where monthly salaries of $700 to $850 are almost double the $450 which most maids here get.

Singapore has to act fast to improve the lot of maids or it will be viewed as a "stepping stone to greener pastures", said Ms Bridget Tan, chief executive of migrant workers rights group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home). Maids can use their stints here to hone English and work skills.

Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, vice-president of migrant workers group Transient Workers Count Too, said that Singapore can fight back by raising maid salaries.

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