When a maid asks for a transfer, it spells inconvenience and cost for the employer.
But for the maid agent, it can mean more agency fees from a new employer, and more commission from the maid for finding her a new boss - all without the hassle of going abroad to recruit.
This high turnover of maids here - between February 2011 and last year, only slightly more than four in 10 maids stayed with the same employer for at least a year - was highlighted in a letter which ran in The Straits Times Forum pages last month.
It drew a flurry of online comments from employers, who said maids cite anything from family problems to being unhappy with their current employer, or wanting a weekly day off - to cut short the standard two-year contract.
Some also believe agents may not be doing enough to persuade maids to stay. Air stewardess Shirley Lee, 39, whose Filipino maid quit after three months, said: "Why would an agent want to help the maids solve their issues with employers if they can earn good profits when she transfers?"
Agents admit that working with transfer maids involves less hassle since they are already here. But agents still earn as much as the usual $600 to $800 they get for a new maid.
"There isn't enough incentive to persuade a maid to continue working for her employer instead of transferring," said an agent who declined to be named.
In recent years, the high turnover rate has even spurred the opening of agencies specialising in transfer maids.
Such agencies have sprouted up in Coronation Plaza and Lucky Plaza, which are known in the industry as "transfer-maid hubs".
Industry players said these specialist agencies can earn over $1,000 for each worker. The money comes from the lower operating costs, since they do not travel overseas, and also from charging employers extra for the benefit of interviewing the maids in person.
However, these agents said claims of easy money are wrong. Transfer maids tend to be more demanding since their experience is valued by employers. There have also been cases of employers hiring transfer maids directly after being introduced to them.
"So agents don't get to earn any money at all," said Averise maid agency owner M.K. Leo, who places both transfer maids and those starting fresh.
The transfer maid situation here is in marked contrast to that in Hong Kong. Agents there said over 60 per cent of maids complete their two-year contracts.
Maids there are deterred from changing bosses because each transfer takes two months and this means a loss of income. They earn over $650, compared to the market rate of $450 in Singapore, and pay lower placement fees.
Indonesian embassy counsellor Sukmo Yuwono, who is in charge of the welfare of maids here from his country, said the high turnover rate can be improved by matching maids with suitable employers. "Some maids are not told that they have to clean a big house with pets. So they get a shock and give up."
Maids are also more educated these days and ready to stand up for themselves. Said Orange Employment agency owner Shirley Ng: "Maids these days are less likely to keep quiet and just work. They will ask for a transfer if they do not get a day off."
A 29-year-old Filipino maid, who wanted to be identified only as Matat, is waiting for a new employer after her previous one did not accede to her request.
"I need to go to church and meet my friends on Sunday. It is something I must have."
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