SINGAPORE - Employers generally don't mind their maids going online in their free time and using social media such as Facebook in the right manner.
What bothers them is that some maids abuse the trust and end up posting either naughty photos or those that reveal details of their employer's home and family. Advance Link's Mrs Winnie Wang confirms that most employers are flexible.
"Some just restrict the use to weekends, which I feel is quite reasonable. This will help to prevent social problems and also prevents maids getting addicted to using their phones," she says.
Mr Gary Chin, managing director of Nation Employer, says it's fine for employers to add their maids as Facebook friends but admits that he generally discourages it especially for first-time maids.
He explains: "There's no harm being friends, but some employers may feel uncomfortable that they have crossed the line and gone from boss to friend.
"The maids too may feel just as awkward and they may want to vent their unhappiness over some issues but cannot because they don't want their employers to come across such postings on Facebook."
Mrs Wang agrees: "The blurred lines can make it difficult and it may then result in the maid setting up another account to hide from the employer. When she gets found out, the employer will get even more upset."
Twenty out of 30 employers randomly polled say they started out being friends with their maids on Facebook.
Mr Wang Ying Chao's wife is one example. He says: "I don't think there is anything wrong with maids being on social media. In fact, my wife was the one who helped her set up her Facebook account.
"They have the right to keep in touch with their friends and family in any way they choose. They lead a tough life being away from their families and if social media helps them to stay in touch with their loved ones, so be it."
They had set rules for the maid.
"We told her that she was allowed to use her mobile phone during mealtimes and after she had finished her work for the day. She was absolutely not allowed to use her mobile phone while caring for the children," he says.
His wife, who did not want to be named, points out: "By the way, all these shenanigans, like posing for pictures, were done while she was supposedly depressed that her husband was fooling around and that her kids had no caregiver."
After Ms Nana Chan, 47, sent her last maid home, she decided that she would no longer allow the new maid to use the laptop or phone to access the Internet.
Ms Chan, a logistics executive, recalls how her maid from Myanmar became so addicted that she would spend "up to an hour in the bathroom" or not go to sleep until 3am or 4am.
She says: "One day, I came home early, found my maid asleep with her mobile phone screen still showing her Facebook page, and my (five-month-old) baby crying in the room. That was it. I could not trust her to take care of my family."
Going online in the day when both employers were not at home and neglecting the baby was the last straw for Mr Greg Ho. He says of his Filipino maid: "She did not have her priorities right. On top of that, from the photos, we realised that she was dating a Bangladeshi cleaner even though she is married. What if she got pregnant?"
Mr Jolovan Wham, migrant workers' advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics executive director, recommends that employers tell their maids what they can and cannot do when it comes to going online.
"It's a bit hard to police sexy dressing on a maid's day off but you can advise her on the dos and don'ts of using the computer. Most maids do listen," he says. "I don't think we should restrict them from going online totally.
"The Internet allows them to connect with what is happening out there, and also to communicate with their friends and even family members."
A Maids Eye View of Singapore Employers, a Facebook group run by a domestic worker and her friends who are working in Singapore, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "When maids go on Facebook, in their own time, what right have the employer to stop the maid? Unfortunately, maids have to live with their employers, and have to face the black faces every time.
"Maids go on Facebook to keep in contact with their friends and country. They feel much better with more social interaction when they are on the Facebook and (instant messaging app) Viber chat with friends. They are informed of new happenings, changes in the law, other maids' stories.
These avenues open their eyes and give them hope, knowledge and contact with people who can support them.
"Being able to communicate with other human beings should be a human right. Nobody should stop you. Would you like it if your employer told you that you cannot take your smartphone to the office? No. So why is a maid different? A maid is even paid less, they should have more right to do things in their free time."
Mr Zach Mano, who runs a cybercafe in Lucky Plaza and another in Peninsula Plaza, offers Internet courses for new maids. At the start of the first lesson, he gives them a top 10 list of Internet etiquette - No. 1 on the list is "No sexy pictures".
He says: "I explain to the maids that apart from not incurring the wrath of their employers, it will also protect them from being preyed on by some men who may be out to look for some fun."
He thinks it's important to let the maids know that the rule takes their welfare into consideration.
"This way, they won't feel like 'you are trying to control me'."
Mr Chin agrees: "We remind them that there are different groups of people online - some will exchange good ideas and tips, or offer genuine companionship. But the naughty ones will lead you astray.
"Most maids will listen if they find you are being reasonable."
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