Plan for male helpers hits snag

Mr Laminn Koko (left), from Myanmar, has proven to be a good helper for Mr John Ashworth (right), after the patient’s son, Mr Richard Ashworth, had little success with two previous female maids.

SINGAPORE - A push by a local maid agency to bring in more male helpers to Singapore has hit a snag because it has been found to be "not practical".

Homekeeper, which last year announced plans to bring in up to 100 male "maids", has decided there is not enough interest after bringing in 10 from Myanmar.

Issues include the longer time it takes for a male helper's work permit to be approved, the fact that he cannot be transferred to another family and families' reservations regarding living arrangements.

"If there are women living in the house, families are not comfortable with a male helper also staying under the same roof," said Homekeeper general manager Mark Chin.

The role of live-in male helpers is to take care of elderly men, who might be too heavy for female maids to lift. They are paid around $600 a month, compared with around $2,000 for a male nurse.

A Manpower Ministry (MOM) spokesman said there are around 30 male helpers here, and applications to bring them in are "very rare" and allowed only in "exceptional situations". There are more than 200,000 female maids here.

Last year, Homekeeper decided to bring in more male helpers after saying there was a strong demand for them to take care of elderly men who may be bedridden, given the ageing population. But it found that getting approval for a helper would take one to three months.

Families who wanted a male helper were willing to wait in the beginning, but as their needs grew more urgent, they became more impatient, Mr Chin said. Sometimes, prospective employers had to seek the help of their Members of Parliament to try to get the applications approved, he added. But this is only part of the problem.

One 32-year-old male helper from Myanmar decided to return home after four months because the job was not what he had ex- pected. He thought he would only be taking care of the elderly man he was attached to, but he was asked to do housework as well.

He could not be transferred to another family because MOM approves work permits for male helpers only on a case-by-case basis.

Homekeeper chose to bear the return expenses for the male helpers who wanted or needed to be repatriated. Out of the 10 male helpers the firm brought in, six have left.

The owner of employment agency JRS Business Express, who did not want to be named, said she has brought in one or two male helpers, adding that the application process is "quite tough".

As for families who hope to hire male helpers, Mr Chin said his firm will still bring them in, but on an ad-hoc basis.

TIMELY HELP FOR FATHER AND SON

When his 81-year-old father was diagnosed with dementia four years ago, Mr Richard Ashworth tried to take care of him on his own.

The 60-year-old found that he could not cope.

He hired two female maids, one after another, but his father, a man of substantial physique, would sometimes get violent, or try to touch them, without knowing what he was doing.

So, when Mr Ashworth read a Straits Times report last year on Homekeeper bringing in male helpers, he called the company. Now, Mr Laminn Koko, from Myanmar, has become a vital part of the family - an uncommon success story for Homekeeper's push to bring in male helpers. The 24-year-old showers Mr Ashworth's father, Mr John Ashworth, cleans him up after he goes to toilet and even continues his cross-stitching for him at the Jurong condominium where they stay.

"Without Koko's help, I cannot manage," Mr Ashworth said, breaking down as he recalled the emotional strain he went through when having to take care of his father, who had adopted him, alone.

He also has a slipped disc, which would cause him pain whenever he had to shower his father. "Koko has made my life so much easier." The helper works from 6.30am to 8pm, after which Mr Ashworth takes over.

But Mr Koko admits he had second thoughts and had even decided to leave after paying off the fees he owed a Myanmar recruiting agency.

"At first, I will get angry. But then, I breathe, and tell myself I must understand that Uncle John is sick," he told The Sunday Times. With the help of a dictionary, he has picked up English.

When his own mother suffered a stroke earlier this year, Mr Koko went back to Myanmar. Mr Ashworth feared that his helper would not return, but he did.

When asked whether he will go back to Myanmar when his contract ends next August, Mr Koko said: "I don't want to go. If I go, who will take care of Uncle John?"


This article was first published on Sep 14, 2014.
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