Trust is two-way street between employer, maid

Indonesian maids (from left) Tati Jupran, 30, Triani, 26, Suharni, 28, and Wiwin Winengsih, 30, asked for a change of employers because they were not given a day off.

SINGAPORE - You know it's a hot-button topic when it can get our editorial team arguing loudly over the meeting table.

We were discussing the issue of maids, or Foreign Domestic Workers - FDWs in Manpower Ministry speak.

There's been a tizzy of reaction after a letter appeared in The Straits Times Forum page last week from an employer lamenting how we have gone so far to protect domestic workers, and how employers are finding themselves in a hard place where they have to bear all the risk.

The letter writer tells her story on the facing page.

Then it was reported last week that less than half of maids placed between Feb 2011 and 2013 stayed with their employers for at least a year.

That is a shocking statistic. Why do so many decide to up and leave? Is it because how we behave as employers?

I have seen pretty nasty things such as employers who don't buy food for the maid at restaurants but will happily bring her along so that she can feed the child. I don't quite get the master-serf (note: not servant) relationship that many seem to want.

When I complained about what I saw, my friend, who has two helpers, defended the practice, saying that he makes sure they eat at home first. His point? Who else was going to look after the kids?

Let's just say that we had to agree to disagree before we started tearing each other's throats out.

It's an emotive issue precisely because domestic helpers come into the most intimate space in our lives, our homes, and help look after the most precious people around us, our family.

Talk to any employer and the fear is evident - that things will go wrong and they will have to bear the brunt of the financial burden when it does.

Unfortunately, that in itself can be a catalyst for bad things - if one is more strict, and the maid feels like a slave or is not fully integrated into the family, misunderstandings and problems can happen.

Trust is a rare commodity these days.

I can imagine how tough it is to work a stranger into your home and family. I can only imagine how scary it is for the maid too, where every move can bring reprobation.

But I can only say: it must begin with us.

It simply has to.

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