Only about a third of maids here get their weekly day off and both they and employers are responsible for the poor record.
Since January last year, bosses are required to give maids a weekly day off or payment in lieu. But most bosses are reluctant to give the day off, especially if they have had constant help at home, said employment agents.
They are supported, in some cases, by maids who prefer to be compensated for work rather than resting because they want to earn more money.
"Most employers get a maid not as a luxury but because they need the service for their family, for example, to take care of aged family members," said Ms Carene Chin, managing director of maid agency Homekeeper.
Mr Jack Khoo, owner of WorldAsia Employment Agency, said seven in 10 employers ask him whether they can withhold giving the day off. "But when we tell them it's a rule, they'll comply," he said.
Some employers use the $5,000 security bond as an excuse, saying that if the maid goes out and misbehaves, they will lose the money, said Best Home Employment Agency owner Tay Khoon Beng.
"But it's not a good reason, because certain aspects of the rules have been relaxed," he added.
The Manpower Ministry said in Parliament on Monday that of 2,000 maids surveyed who had come to Singapore to work for the first time last year, 37 per cent were receiving a weekly day off, and 61 per cent received at least one day off per month.
The low figure may also be because maids themselves request to work and get extra cash instead of taking the day off. This is especially prevalent in their first year of work as they want to pay off the placement fee, agents said.
"Most of them are very happy to get compensation in lieu and not go out at all, especially when they are still clearing their loan," said Madam Netty Chu, who owns Great Helpers.
Some agents remain optimistic about the trend, especially as basic salaries are on the rise.
"There is a change - a lot of employers would rather not pay more, and would rather their maids go out," said Madam Chu.
Mr Tay said the 37 per cent was a good score after only a year. "Maybe by next year, it will shoot up," he added.
As contracts last for two years, by next January, all maids will be on new contracts that have to abide by the new rule.
Employer Michelle Teo, an executive assistant, said she gives her maid a weekly day off. "After a few days of hard work, it's time for her to take a break and go out. I trust her and I don't ask her who she mixes with," she said.
Maids on their days off can enjoy new facilities such as a clubhouse set up by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training.
Its executive director, Mr William Chew, said about 200 maids have signed up for memberships so far.
The space in Tanjong Pagar will house facilities such as computer labs and a library. A soft launch is slated for next month.
This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.