My maid's attitude changed

SINGAPORE - Her domestic helper was a godsend at first.

Sri had a year's experience in looking after the elderly, which was perfect. Ms Choo Sing Nian, 39, needed the help to look after her 80-year-old father, who is wheelchair-bound and suffers from dementia.

Sri was also alert and a fast learner, often taking the initiative to do things.

But once her loan to work here was paid up, she became distracted and disinterested in her work, says Ms Choo.

Suddenly, the maid wanted to leave immediately, leaving the video editor with little alternative but to send her home - at her own cost.

Ms Choo says she is hard hit, having to cough up more money to get a new maid.

She wrote to The Straits Times' Forum last week, asking what protection there was for employers.

She told the The New Paper on Sunday: "I am a single working-class person trying to make ends meet and taking care of my aged parents at the same time. I don't make much and a maid for my family is a necessity, not a luxury.

"Why must I fork out a few thousand dollars each time a maid wants to go back before her contract ends?

"While maids have laws to protect them and agents their profits, who protects employers like myself? A contract may be signed by the agent, maid and employer but what purpose does this contract serve?

"The maid still can give a seven-day notice citing any reason she wants to quit, without any penalty on her or the agent."

Ms Choo recalls how the initially rosy situation at home turned sour.

Sri was reliable, and knew how to look after her father. Something that Ms Choo says she was very thankful for as she couldn't leave him to her 70-year-old mother to manage alone.

"I also could not afford, and would not want to, send my father to a nursing home."

Ms Choo, who was a first-time employer, says she coughed up almost $6,000 upfront to hire Sri.

"The agent's fee was $1,388, insurance $300, and $3,400 went to paying her loan. The rest went to miscellaneous fees and something called the security amount."

Domestic workers usually take a loan to pay an agent to come to work here. Employers generally pay this amount upfront, and the maid repays it in instalments over the first months she works here.

Ms Choo says Sri's monthly salary was $520, inclusive of an additional $70 as she chose not to have a day off. Of this, a portion was deducted to pay off her loan each month.

According to a Straits Times report last week, maids get a basic pay of $450 in general.

"After she had been with us for over eight months - and her loan had been paid off - her attitude began to change. She became disinterested in her work," Ms Choo says.

Even though these were early warning signs, Ms Choo was ill-prepared when Sri suddenly requested to go home immediately.

She told her that Mount Kelud, a volcano in East Java, Indonesia, had erupted and her sister, who was helping to look after her four children had been hospitalised. She also told her employer that her son had fallen ill.

"She was insistent that she had to leave immediately, so we took her to the agency," says Ms Choo.

There, Sri was told she had to wait at least a week until a replacement maid was found.

When she agreed at once, Ms Choo says she had her suspicions - why would someone first insist on leaving immediately, then agree to stay back?

She claims that theirs was a happy working arrangement: "I think we treated her well."

Ms Choo elaborates: "She woke up at 6.30am to help bathe and feed my father. Then at 8am, she did the laundry and helped out in the kitchen. She didn't have to cook. My mother did that."

"She had a break between 1pm and 5pm when my parents would nap. By 9pm she was already in bed."

She says there was $1,000 in Sri's savings account when she left.

Since her departure, Ms Choo has had to fork out another $4,000 to pay her new maid's loan.

Ms Choo is upset because it feels as if a maid does not have to bear any responsibility for changing her mind about working.

"It looks like while the maid can decide her own fate, I end up having to pay for her change of heart.

"If the same thing happens again with this new maid and the next and the next, then where am I going to find so much money to pay for loan after loan?"

juditht@sph.com.sg

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