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Some employers think it's vital to give days off to maids

Only 12 per cent allow their maids a weekly day off, the minimum international standard sanctioned last week by the International Labour Organisation. -TNP
Gan Ling Kai

Tue, Jun 28, 2011
The New Paper

MEET the employers of Filipino maid Teresita Guitang, 32.

They give her days off, with promises of incrementand even a paid leave at the end of the year.

It all sounds very corporate.

Well, you should treat your domestic helper the way you would want to be treated at work, Miss Guitang's bosses are telling Singaporeans.

Mr Jason Tan, 37, a financial services senior manager, said: "Just like us, I am sure our helpers do not want to face their bosses every single day.

"They need to get out from their workplace, which is our homes, to have a real break."

Under review

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is reviewing the current flexible arrangement where domestic helpers are allowed regular rest days or compensation in lieu.

The review comes after the Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob said last Sunday that Singapore should consider making it compulsory for employers to give maids a rest day weekly.

Miss Guitang started working for Mr Tan and his wife Celine Quek, 35, a homemaker,last February.

After six months, the couple were pleased with the maid's performance and allowed her to take two days off monthly.

Miss Guitang is their fifth maid and the second to have days off. The other three maids, from Indonesia, prefer a $20 monthly compensation in lieu of days off.

Having days off motivates Miss Guitang in handling her chores efficiently, including doing the laundry, cooking, cleaning their five-room Clementi flat, and taking care of their three children, aged two, six and eight.

Said Ms Quek, who used to work in corporate communications until she quit last year to help her children with their schoolwork: "It is important to help her set targets on what needs to be done at home.

"After she is done with the tasks, we don't keep adding things to her list. We don't expect her to work 24/7."

The couple plan to increase Miss Guitang's current monthly salary from $360 to $400 in December.

They are even working out with Miss Guitang the possibility of giving her a month of paid leave at the end of the year.

"In our careers, we are motivated by increments andother rewards.

"We should also be recognising the efforts of our helpers in taking care of our families," said Mr Tan.

Miss Guitang, who's single, is excited when her leisure days, usually Sundays, roll around.

She gets to log on in an Internet cafe at Lucky Plaza to video chat with her elderly parents and seven siblings in the Philippines.

She also spends the afternoons shopping with her cousins, who are also working here as maids.

She also has a dream: To set up a computer shop in back home in about 10 years. She also plans to take up computer courses here on her days off.

Said Miss Guitang: "It is not easy to work in a country so far away (from home).

"But I am not homesick because I get to talk to my family."

A recent survey of 108 employers found that 45 per centdonot give their maids a single day off in a month.

Only 12 per cent allow their maids a weekly day off, the minimum international standard sanctioned last week by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The survey was commissioned by the Singapore National Committee for United Nations Women and two migrant worker welfare groups, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics and Transient Workers Count Too, and was funded by the ILO.

Miss Guitang said she understands why some employers would not want to give days off to their maids.

After all, she has heard stories of how some foreign maids here "become naughty" and even get pregnant.

But she believes most domestic helpers are focused on doing their job well.

What gives Mr and Mrs Tan the assurance that Miss Guitang would not be led astray?


"It's all about trust," said Mr Tan. "It's about building that relationship through proper communication.

"It is like how we can't lock up our children all the time just because we are afraid they may misbehave."

But Mr Tan feels that making it compulsory for maids to be given weekly days off is not necessarily a good idea.

"It takes time to build that trust, and sometimes the children of the employer may be too young for this arrangement to work because they need more attention.

There should be more flexibility when it comes to days off," said Mr Tan.

Another employer whom The New Paper on Sunday spoke to lauds the idea of mandatory days off.

Housewife Angela Lee, 43, said: "Everyone needs social time. At the end of the day, we cannot be too reliant on our maids."

She gives weekly days off to her Filipino helper who looks after her two children, aged 11 and 13.

Ms Lee, who once lived in Hong Kong, added that maids in some other countries are given mandatory days off.

In Hong Kong, maids get at least one day off a week while in Taiwan, they get four days off a month.

"It may not be easy, but the employer and the helper have to communicate and work out their schedules," said Ms Lee.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

Copyright ©2011 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.
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