Hiring Foreign Domestic Workers (i.e. FDWs, and colloquially also known as maids or domestic helpers) is not an uncommon practice in Singapore, though it is no easy feat.
An employer has a long list of things to take into consideration before they can employ a FDW, and tons of guidelines to follow after.
While all these conditions can make hiring an FDW seem like a daunting task, fret not!
This is a guide that lists out all you need to know before and during the employment of an FDW's services:
- Choosing a Maid Agency
- Applying for a Work Permit for Your FDW
- Sending Your FDW for the Settling-In Programme
- Your FDW's Employment Conditions
- Your FDW's Employment Fees
- Your FDW's Security Bond
- Employment Rules for FDWs
- Treatment of FDWs
- Debarring of Employers
- Other Employer Concerns
CHOOSING A MAID AGENCY
The first step to hiring an FDW is easy - approaching a reputable agency.
You must verify that the maid agency is licensed by Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
The FDWs you usually see sitting by their front desk are not for employment, but rather for advertisement instead.
The agency will assess your needs (for instance, a wheelchair-bound elderly at home) and select an FDW to cater to those needs.
In addition, you will have to attend an Employer Orientation Programme prior to hiring an FDW.
APPLYING FOR A WORK PERMIT FOR YOUR FDW
Most maid agencies will do this on your behalf before you hire a maid.
However, in a case where they do not do so, it is possible to apply for a work permit for your maid by yourself, either online or at a physical SingPost outlet.
The full application procedure can be found on MOM's website.
Though this step may seem simple, it is not to be overlooked as hiring an FDW without a valid Work Permit is illegal.
Employers can be penalised with a fine between $5,000 and $30,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 1 year.
If the employer commits this offence more than once, imprisonment will be compulsory.
SENDING YOUR FDW FOR THE SETTLING-IN PROGRAMME
If your FDW is coming to Singapore to work for the first time, you will have to send her for the 1-day Settling-In Programme (SIP) when she arrives in Singapore.
She must attend it within 3 days of her arrival in Singapore (excluding Sundays and public holidays).
To ensure that she can secure a training slot, you are advised to register her for the programme before she arrives in Singapore.
You will have to bear the costs of sending your FDW to the SIP, which amounts to $75.
The SIP will be conducted in her native language, and she will only be able to start work after she has attended it.
YOUR FDW'S EMPLOYMENT CONDITIONS
FDWs are not covered by Singapore's Employment Act.
They are, however, governed by the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, which is enforced by MOM.
The FDW's terms of service are set out in her employment contract.
The terms and conditions of this contract must be mutually agreed upon by you and your FDW.
While the agency can be asked to draft the employment contract on your behalf, it is important to ensure that the following terms are covered:
- Placement loan
- Number of rest days per month
- Compensation in lieu of rest day
- Termination notice period (can be waived by mutual consent)
- Compensation in lieu of termination notice
Early termination is allowed to maintain flexibility for both the employer and the FDW.
Either party can terminate the contract by giving the notice period agreed upon in the employment contract.
If the notice period cannot be given, the party terminating the employment should pay salary in lieu of notice.
As the employer, you must agree to comply with the safe work practices stipulated by MOM.
In addition, if the FDW you are going to hire is a new maid or a transfer maid, the employer will arrange for you and her to sign a safety agreement.
New maids are those who come into Singapore from overseas, and are working here for the first time.
Transfer maids are those who are already working in Singapore, but wish to work for another family.
If you are renewing your existing maid's contract, it will not be necessary for you to sign a safety agreement.
The purpose of this safety agreement is to ensure that both parties understand the restrictions set by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on the cleaning of the exterior of windows.
These restrictions were set in place in order to prevent maids from accidentally falling out of the window while cleaning.
The safety agreement itself:
- Lists restrictions on cleaning windows;
- States that your requirements for cleaning windows must comply with MOM's regulations; and
- Includes your maid's acknowledgement of your requirements on window cleaning.
The safety agreement will be signed by you, the maid, and the employment agency; and all three parties are required to keep one copy each.
To ensure that the maid fully understands the agreement, the copy of the safety agreement that she signs will be in her native language.
YOUR FDW'S EMPLOYMENT FEES
As one would expect, hiring a domestic helper is not cheap.
Some may not be aware of the things that an employer must pay for apart from the payment of her salary, such as a levy fee.
HOW MUCH IS THE MAID LEVY IN SINGAPORE?
An employer is required to pay the maid levy imposed by the MOM which is $300 per month.
Maid levy payments are to be made online via General Interbank Recurring Order (GIRO), which can be applied for by form once your FDW's application for a Work Permit has been approved.
Levy concessions can be granted for employers living with families that include children, elderly, or the disabled.
For more information on levy payments and concessions, click here.
ARE THERE PENALTIES FOR FAILING TO PAY THE MAID LEVY?
Should you fail to pay the full levy on time, you might face the following penalties:
- Late payment penalty of 2 per cent per month or $20, whichever is higher;
- Revocation of your FDW's Work Permit;
- A ban from applying for or issuing a new Work Permit;
- A ban from renewing an existing Work Permit; or
- Legal action to recover the unpaid levy.
It is also possible to obtain a waiver for the maid levy in certain specific situations.
Examples of such situations, and the documentation required to obtain the waiver in these situations, include:
|Your FDW went on overseas leave
(Must be for at least 7 consecutive days, capped at 60 days per year.)
If the helper chose not to return from overseas leave, you should cancel her Work Permit before applying for a waiver.
|Your FDW is on hospitalisation leave after being admitted to a hospital in Singapore
(Capped at 60 days per year)
|Either of the following:
|Your FDW was in the custody of the police or the embassy||Letter from the relevant organisation stating the custody period|
|Your FDW passed away||Copy of her death certificate|
You can only apply for the levy waiver once the levy has been charged.
The application must be made via the CPF website within 1 year of the levy bill.
Meanwhile, you will obviously need to pay the FDW's salary, which ranges around $400 usually.
She must be paid her due salary each month, no later than 7 days after the last day of the salary period.
You will also need to pay for her food and other daily needs.
Take note that the salary paid to the maid must not be lower than what you declared to MOM, and cannot be deducted under any private agreement.
If you want to decrease your FDW's salary, you will have to obtain her written consent, as well as inform MOM.
Finally, do note that from 1 January 2019, you will not be able to keep your FDW's salary or any other money belonging to her.
This is even if she requests for you to do so.
You will also be prohibited from keeping her bank book or bank card on her behalf. Bank accounts are taken into consideration as well - if your FDW has a bank account, it cannot be a joint account with you as her employer.
These rules are implemented as protective measures for the maid, as it may be hard for employer to keep track of the amount of money that needs to be returned to her.
It also serves as a means of preventing both parties from having to deal with monetary disputes.
You are required to purchase insurance for your FDW before she arrives in Singapore.
You will have to fully bear the costs of such insurance.
You must purchase and maintain medical insurance with coverage of at least $15,000 per 12-month period, as well as personal accident insurance of at least $60,000 per year.
In addition, the personal accident insurance should cover sudden, unforeseen and unexpected incidents resulting in permanent disability or death.
It also must not contain extra exclusion clauses that are not in Part II of the First Schedule of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Regulations.
These insurance plans are meant to protect your FDW and her family, should anything unfortunate happen to her.
The compensation to be paid out under these insurance plans must therefore be made payable to your FDW or her beneficiaries.
YOUR FDW'S SECURITY BOND
An employer must deposit a $5,000 security bond for every full-time FDW they employ, excluding those from Malaysia.
This security bond (in the form of an insurance or banker's guarantee) ensures that both you and the helper will comply with the Work Permit Conditions.
The insurers of the security bond are required to send the bond's details to MOM before the maid arrives in Singapore.
The employer must ensure that the security bond can be processed in time (this may take up to 3 working days), and that it takes effect on the maid's date of arrival.
Failure to do so will result in the maid being refused entry into Singapore, and having to be sent home.
DISCHARGE OF THE SECURITY BOND
The security bond will be discharged in full when the maid's services end without any breach of the security bond's conditions by either party.
In other words, while the employer themselves must comply with the bond's conditions, they must also take reasonable steps to ensure that their maid complies with the conditions as well.
Any violations of the security bond's conditions, either by the maid or the employer, can be reported to MOM.
WHEN WILL THE SECURITY BOND BE DISCHARGED?
An employer will be discharged from the security bond liability for a worker once:
The maid's Work Permit has been cancelled;
The maid has returned home; and
There were no breaches of any of the conditions of the security bond.
If all of the above conditions are met, the security bond will discharged about one week after the helper leaves Singapore. Once the bond has been discharged, the employer will be notified by post.
IN WHAT SITUATIONS WOULD THE SECURITY BOND BE FORFEITED?
The security bond may be forfeited where:
The employer or the maid fails to follow any of the conditions set out in the Work Permit (for example, becoming pregnant) or the security bond;
The employer fails to pay the maid's salary on time;
The employer fails to send the maid back when her Work Permit has expired, or been revoked or cancelled;
The maid goes missing.
If the maid violates any of the conditions set out in the Work Permit, the employer is not liable for her violations (and hence will not lose their security bond) if they can be prove that they had:
Informed her of the Work Permit conditions that she must comply with; and
Reported the violation to MOM when they first became aware of it.
EMPLOYMENT RULES FOR FDWS
There are certain employment rules that a maid must abide by, according to the conditions set out in her Work Permit.
For instance, a maid can only perform household chores at the residential address.
She cannot be deployed to work elsewhere in a business.
However, it is possible for her to work at another address during the day, if she is there to perform duties pertaining to the employer's children or elderly parents.
If a maid is illegally deployed, convicted employers may have to pay a fine of up to $10,000, and risk being banned from hiring helpers in the future.
The FDW must also stay at the residential address in her Work Permit.
She is not allowed to engage in illegal, immoral or undesirable activities, such as breaking up families. If found to be so, her permit may be revoked.
TREATMENT OF FDWS
Apart from compulsory requirements regarding food and accommodation for the maid, there are other conditions stipulated in the Work Permit that the employer must abide by.
On top of making sure that your FDW is medically insured, you must also pay for her medical examination every 6 months (known as 6ME) and any medical expenses arising from it. Her medical results must be certified by a Singapore-registered doctor.
You will receive a notification letter and 6ME form by post when your FDW's 6ME is due, and you must send her for the 6ME before the due date. It can only be postponed if your FDW is on overseas leave.
The 6ME screens your FDW for pregnancy and infectious diseases.
She will be tested for pregnancy and syphilis every 6 months, and HIV every 2 years.
Once she has stayed in Singapore for 2 years, she will be tested once for tuberculosis.
If your FDW does not pass her 6ME, you must cancel her work permit and send her home immediately.
According to the Work Permit conditions, the employer must give the maid adequate rest daily.
Employers are also advised to give their maids a regular rest day to ensure that she gets enough mental and physical rest.
If the maid's Work Permit was issued or renewed after 1 January 2013, she is entitled to a weekly rest day.
The employer and maid must mutually agree on which day of the week she should take the rest day, and have the agreement in writing in order to avoid disputes.
Should there be a case where your maid agrees to work on her rest day, you must compensate her with 1 day's worth of salary.
Alternatively, she can be compensated with a replacement rest day taken within the same month.
DEBARRING OF EMPLOYERS
It is illegal to ill-treat your maid, and employers who do so risk being debarred (i.e. banned) from hiring helpers in the future.
MOM will debar employers on the grounds of infringing employment rules and regulations under the Employment and Foreign Manpower Act. Examples of infringements include:
Physical or psychological abuse of your FDW (including sexual abuse);
Exploitation or ill-treatment of an FDW (e.g. refusing to pay her salary, not giving her sufficient food and/or rest);
Instructing an FDW to perform tasks that put her safety and health at risk (e.g. failing to comply with the safety agreement); or
Illegal employment or deployment of an FDW.
The period of debarment depends on the severity of the offences committed.
More serious offences, such as physical or sexual abuse, will result in the employers and their spouses being permanently banned from employing FDWs if they are found guilty.
On top of being debarred, employers may also face enhanced criminal penalties under the Penal Code.
OTHER EMPLOYER CONCERNS
AM I ALLOWED TO KEEP MY FDW'S PASSPORT?
Employers should not be keeping their FDW's passport, nor should they be forcing their FDWs to give them their passports.
Under the section 47(5) of the Passports Act, it is an offence to keep a foreign travel document that you know was not issued to you.
Offenders are liable to a fine of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to 10 years, or both.
Instead, MOM encourages employers to provide their FDWs with means of keeping their passports and other important belongings securely, such as a locker.
More importantly, the FDW should be able to freely access her passport and belongings.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY MAID BORROWS MONEY FROM ILLEGAL MONEYLENDERS?
If your maid borrows money from illegal moneylenders and fails to pay them back on time, there' is a possibility that letters demanding payment might be sent to your house.
If you receive such letters, do not panic - there is a high chance that your FDW is the only one who is legally obligated to pay them back, as they probably would have taken the loan using their own details.
Even if the loan was taken using your details, you are not obliged to repay the illegal moneylender.
Your best course of action would be to report the issue to the police and inform the moneylenders that you've done so, especially if they resort to threats of physical harm.
If your FDW fails to repay her loans from illegal moneylenders on time multiple times, it might be best to transfer her employment to someone else, or to cancel her Work Permit altogether.
IN WHICH SITUATION MUST I NOTIFY MOM?
The following are examples of issues that MOM must be informed of:
- If you intend to decrease your FDW's salary.
- If your FDW goes missing (you must also file a missing person report with the police within a week of knowing that she has gone missing).
- If your FDW dies, MOM must be informed within 12 hours of you learning of her death.
- You must also notify MOM if you change your residential address.
WHAT DO I DO IF I HAVE DISPUTES WITH MY FDW?
If there are disputes between you and your FDW, do try to discuss the issues with her first.
However, if you have proof that she has committed a criminal misdeed, do not take matters into your own hands - report it to the police instead.
For disputes with your FDW's employment agency, the agency should have a dispute resolution mechanism that it should be following.
If the issue lies with the service agreement and cannot be resolved by mediation, you might want to consider contacting the Small Claims Tribunals instead.
For all other conflicts or issues, it would be best to contact MOM if you need further assistance.
This article was first published in SingaporeLegalAdvice.
SingaporeLegalAdvice.com is a legal platform for individuals and small business owners needing legal help. The information provided above does not constitute legal advice and is to be followed at your own risk. You should obtain specific legal advice from a lawyer before taking any legal action.