Employers: Why should we pay?

File photo.

SINGAPORE - It is a scenario that many employers of maids would be familiar with.

Family hires maid on the premise of a two-year contract. But months later, maid cites reasons that range from homesickness to family issues and asks to return home.

The employer has no choice but to allow the maid to do so and ends up also having to pay the airfare for her return.

And employer has to start all over again, often coughing up a new lump sum of money to hire someone else.

It is a predicament that Ms Choo Sing Nian highlighted in her letter to The Straits Times Forum page on Monday.

The letter drew a flurry of comments online and has been shared on a few other forums.

Most of the online responses indicate that there are many employers here who find themselves in the same situation, with many calling for this practice to change.

The topic is also a hot button among 40 heartlanders whom I randomly approached this week. Speak to them and emotions run high.

Many tell me that hiring a maid is most often out of necessity, which explains why 32 of them are miffed that they are being held to ransom because of their needs, which include taking care of young children or elderly family members.

Madam Germaine Ee, 46, recounts her experience with her first maid from Indonesia in 2009. She had depended on the maid to take care of her two sons, who were three and five years old then.

"Just about a year into the maid's contract, she said she was feeling homesick and wanted to return home," says the accounts executive.

"I thought she could be 'talked' into bucking up and would stay. We even increased her salary by another $50, which was really quite rare for a maid barely into her second year."

What happened next nearly turned into a nightmare for Madam Ee and her husband, who declined to be interviewed.

"The maid ran away and accused my husband of raping her.

"Thankfully, it was all sorted out when we encouraged her to go to the police so that they could investigate clearly.

"The maid's agent also explained the consequences she would have to live with when it is proven that she lied."

Madam Ee says she is grateful that the problem was nipped in the bud, but admits that she "still feels sour" that she had to pay for the maid's airfare home.

"She was the troublemaker and I had to pay the price."

While the circumstances surrounding Madam Ee's case are uncommon, many employers share her grouse over the lack of protection for employers.

Mrs Agnes Chia, 40, a teacher, sums it up: "Everything that the maid does, we have to be patient and accept.

"You cannot punish or penalise them when they break or damage your things or clothes, you cannot raise your voice when they do something wrong or mistreat your children.

"But the minute she decides to play punk, runs off or wants to go home, you have to bear the cost of sending her home. She breaches the contract but you pay for it. How fair is that?"

The Manpower Ministry points out it is not breaking or breaching a contract if there is enough notice or pay in lieu of notice is given.

Dr Noorashikin Abdul Rahman, a board member of Transient Workers Count Too, a maid advocacy group, stresses that employers must maintain healthy communication with their maids. And this is particularly vital during the maid's first six months in the household.

She says: "Maids go through culture shock and will not be used to working in a new and strange environment.

"It is good to let the maid know that there is someone she can talk to about her problems and ease her into her new life here away from home.

"If a maid requests to return home, it is a sign that something could be wrong."

The tip is to talk to her and find out what is wrong and then see what can be done to address the situation.

"At the end of the day, it is better to repatriate than keep someone who is unhappy."

Recently, my family decided to hire a helper from Indonesia. All in, we paid nearly $6,000 upfront, which included the maid's placement fee (in other words, the loan the maid borrowed to come here to work).

This lump sum "investment" is paid up even before the maid steps into our home and naturally, we hope (and pray) that all goes well.

But the start was not easy. We found out only on the day she arrived that she has a two-year son. As a mother, I am naturally concerned that she will be badly hit and would miss her child.

And here is where I think things can change: Maid agencies, for a start, could do their part to ensure that a maid's biodata is accurate. This will prevent a mismatch (our helper's biodata said that she had a teenage daughter).

There is no win-win solution for both parties in this argument of whose interest can be better protected, but perhaps we as employers can start with ourselves.

Try to understand what it is like for the maid, who has to leave her hometown and live in a strange land where cultures and lifestyles are different. If nothing (that is, the law) is done to protect them, how can they be expected to do their job well?

Of course, there are errant maids and getting a good one is a matter of luck.

The helper of Mrs Vanessa Yung, 40, chief executive officer of the Singapore Hospice Council, retired after working for the Yungs for 13 years.

Mrs Yung says: "I hired her as my helper. I did not buy her as my slave.

"I did what I could to treat her as a member of my family, After all, she gave up bringing up her five children to help me raise my four."


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