2 years on, employers still skirt day-off clauseThere are several simple reasons why many Singaporean employers are reluctant to give their maids a day off.
Should there be a law to get employers to comply?
Friday • April 25, 2008
NEWLY arrived, a maid asked her employer if she could get a rest day. Her employer was incredulous.
"If I wanted to give my maid a day off, I would have hired one from another country," said the employer, who had signed her up on the assumption that maids of some nationalities were more pliant than others.
Faced with an employment contract that requires them to either give their maids a rest day, or compensate them accordingly for working, some Singaporean employers have sought ways to get around the terms or extract the most from their workers.
And this begs the question of how much has truly changed for the 170,000 foreign domestic workers in our midst — two years after the industry association put together a standard contract requiring employers to give maids at least one day off a month.
A Today straw poll of 50 employers found that only 62 per cent gave their maids a rest day.
With some industry watchers criticising the rest-day clause as being too flexible, should legislation be put in place to mandate the issue? ....
You see, the maid's work permit comes with numerous conditions. For example, she cannot prostitute herself. She cannot have sex with a boyfriend. She cannot get pregnant. And she cannot (of course) commit any crimes such as shoplifting.
If she does any of the above, then she has breached her work permit conditions and the employer has to repatriate her. And if the maid runs away before the employer can do that, the government will fine the employer $5,000. For that matter, the government will fine the employer $5,000, if the maid runs away for any reason.
If you didn't know any of the above, then either you do not employ a maid, or you didn't read the small print of the Manpower Ministry's work permit conditions.
(On a positive note, maids running away is such a common occurrence that it is possible to buy insurance for it. On a negative note, maids running away is a common occurrence).
Many employers are afraid that if their maid has a day off and gets herself into trouble, the employer will not only have to solve the trouble, but also have to fork out $5,000 as a free gift to the government.
(Not that the government will then help you solve the trouble. It's just a fine, plain & simple).
Intuitively, this smacks of gross unfairness. The employer gets punished not for something he did, but for something that somebody else (the maid) did. Furthermore, once the maid leaves the employer's residence, the employer has no way of monitoring where the maid goes and what she does there.
To encourage employers to give their maids a day off, the government needs to change these ridiculous rules.
I agree that employers should be fined and punished, if they fail to perform their responsibilities as employers - for example, paying the maid's salary on time; providing adequate food and accommodation; and ensuring a safe, secure working environment.
But employers should not be held responsible, for things that a maid may do, of her own free will. When the maid goes out on her rest day, the employer simply has no viable way to ensure that she will not do anything that breaches her work permit conditions.
(Which, by the way, are quite extensive and onerous).
We may draw a curious parallel with Mas Selamat's escape, and PM Lee's determined, if muddled, defence of Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng in Parliament.
Mas Selamat ran away. But PM Lee said that Wong Kan Seng was not at fault and should not be punished in any way. The reason being that Wong Kan Seng personally did not do anything which allowed Mas Selamat to escape.
Strangely, if your maid runs away, it IS your fault and you SHOULD be punished. Even if you did not personally do anything to let her run away (apart from giving her a day off).
Similarly, if your maid becomes pregnant, it IS your fault and you SHOULD be punished. Even if you did not personally do anything to make her pregnant.
Oh well. What can I say? Maids are not terrorists. But then you are not Wong Kan Seng. So the rules remain stacked against you. Wong Kan Seng gets off lightly, but you won't. Even if his lapse has far greater, and graver, implications than yours.
Your runaway maid wouldn't blow up Changi Airport, would she?