SINGAPORE - Disputes over days off are prompting increasing numbers of maids to end their contracts prematurely and sign up with new employers.
A check by The Straits Times with six maid agencies found that three in 10 maids at these agencies who were transferred in the last four months did so for this reason.
More maids are insisting on having Sundays off after a law ensuring they get rest days came into effect on Jan 1 last year.
All maids hired or who have their work permits renewed from that date must receive a day off each week, or pay in lieu.
Employers have to shell out about $70 a month, on top of the maids' basic pay of about $450, to get them to work on rest days.
Previously, few maids would cite having no days off as a reason for asking for a new employer, as working without any rest days was the norm, the agencies told The Straits Times.
Indeed, even after the new law took effect, many employers are still rejecting their maids' requests for a day off, leading the maids to seek a transfer to employers who are more willing to accommodate them, the agents said.
Manpower Ministry figures show that only 42 per cent of maids placed by agencies between February 2011 and February last year stayed with the same employer for at least a year.
A standard employment contract is for two years.
Ms Shirley Ng, owner of Orange Employment Agency, said: "It is hard to change the minds of employers who are not receptive to giving a day off. On the other hand, more maids insist on having days off, which they see as their right."
The issue of maids ending their contracts early and leaving their employers in the lurch was highlighted in a letter to The Straits Times Forum Page on Monday.
The letter by video editor Choo Sing Nian drew a flurry of online comments from employers who complained about being at the mercy of maids who cite various reasons - from family problems and being unhappy to wanting a weekly day off - for wanting to end their contracts and change employers.
Ms Choo's maid had worked for eight months without complaints but asked to go home earlier this month because one of her children is sick.
Maid agents said domestic workers usually negotiate for a weekly break or change employers after working for about eight months because by then, they would have cleared their debt of about $2,200 in placement fees to recruitment agents.
Ms Carene Chin, managing director of maid agency Homekeeper, said she tries to improve retention rates by telling her clients to be prepared to give their maids regular days off after they have worked for a few months.
However, agents pointed out that many families with elderly family members and young children find it difficult to cope without their maids even for a day.
Retired teacher Alice Tan, 60, whose Indonesian maid cares for her 85-year-old bedridden father, said: "It would be difficult to do without her help as my father needs constant attention."
But maids who take care of elderly people said they want a weekly break to take a breather from their round-the-clock job.
Indonesian maid Suharni, 28, who goes by one name, said: "I want to rest and meet my friends. "Ah ma cannot walk, so I have to take care of her all the time."
She took care of a 70-year-old woman for six months but asked for a transfer when the woman's children refused to give her a weekly day off.
Agents expect more maids to ask for rest days in future and encourage employers to be open to giving at least one day off a month after the maids have worked for three to four months.
Mr Tay Khoon Beng, owner of Best Home Employment Agency, said: "I tell my clients if they do not give a day off, their maid will ask for a transfer.
"And they will have to go through the process of recruiting and training a new maid."
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