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Manila tightens maid hiring rules

Employers 'must bear placement fees of about $2,000'. -ST
Amelia Tan

Sun, Mar 03, 2013
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - THE cost of hiring Filipino domestic workers is likely to go up as Manila gets tough with Singapore maid agencies on a rule that they must pass on about $2,000 in placement fees to employers.

The Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), or AEAS, has written to the Philippine government to ask that employers bear only part of the fees.

The AEAS has yet to receive a response but in the interim, four big agencies here have already raised fees by about $1,000. AEAS president K. Jayaprema says her organisation, which represents the bulk of maid agents here, has urged the industry to follow suit from this month.

This would mean employers paying between $1,400 and $1,600 to hire a Filipino maid, up from $400 to $600 previously.

Hiring terms put in place more than a decade ago have begun to be enforced more strictly in recent months. These state that Filipino maids must be given four days off a month and a monthly salary of at least US$400 (S$496).

The workers also cannot be charged placement fees, which on average cost $2,000 - or four months' salary. Manila wants employers to bear these costs, which include agents' commissions.

The AEAS says the burden on employers would be too heavy. It wrote a six-page letter urging the Philippine government to compromise by allowing agents to charge the workers up to two months of their salary in placement fees or about $1,000. The other $1,000 will be paid by Singapore employers.

Ms Jayaprema, who asked the Philippine Embassy to pass on the letter to its government last month, has not been told of the outcome. The association is confident its proposal will be accepted since the fees domestic workers pay will be reduced significantly.

Philippine labour attache Vicente Cabe told The Straits Times that the embassy has sent AEAS' letter to Manila, but added that he does not know when a decision will be made.

Ms Jayaprema feels that Manila was forced take a tougher stance because of excessive placement fees that some maids were being charged, something that her organisation is against. In May last year, 10 maids complained to the embassy of having to pay close to $3,000 in placement fees while earning less than the minimum salary of US$400.

The embassy responded by blacklisting two Singapore agents but their names have since been removed from the blacklist.

Ms Bridget Tan, chief executive of foreign workers' group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, has helped about 120 Filipino maids here to file complaints with Manila.

She said: "Any placement fees the workers have to pay are still illegal under Philippine regulations. We have to wait to hear what Manila says."

Some employers who have paid the higher fees see the merits of doing so. Administrative manager Oh Hui Ting, 39, who paid about $1,500 to hire her Filipino maid earlier last month, said: "I feel that my helper is happy and motivated to work as her financial burden has been lightened."

Filipino maid Grace Menes, who paid more than $2,000 in placement fees to find a job here in 2010, welcomed the move but added that fees for employers should not skyrocket. She said: "If the cost is too much for employers, they may decide to hire domestic workers from other countries."

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