Are you ready to take on greater responsibility for your foreign domestic workers?

One of the recommendations proposed by Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is for foreign domestic workers (FDWs) to be covered by the Employment Act and Work Injury Compensation Act.

The Employment Act covers both local and foreign workers, but with the exception of a 208,000-strong group – domestic workers.

Domestic workers  are not covered under the aforementioned acts, as evident in the statutes. (However, note that Part VII of the Employment Act has it that the Minister may apply the Act to domestic workers.)

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One in five Singaporean households employ a maid. Why is such a sizeable number of employees not counted in the Act?

The informal nature of household chores is one main reason, though admittedly not a very convincing one. The Employment Act requires workers be given a weekly rest day.

After a long time, domestic workers are finally given the rest day entitlement. Since January 2013, domestic workers must get one day off a week or must be given a day’s wages in lieu.

This was not without resistance; a recent survey by HOME on 670 maids found that only 40% had a weekly day off. There is much fear among employers that during the day off, their maids would run away or get impregnated by the men they meet outside.

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FDWs are also not covered by WICA because the nature of their work “makes it difficult to determine whether the injury is sustained as part of the work or otherwise”.

But employers are, by MOM’s regulations, required to purchase the Personal Accident Insurance policy insurance when employing the maids. We should still note that the compensation provided by the insurance will not be as big and coverage not as wide as that of WICA.

For example, employers are required by WICA to make compensations up to $30,000 for medical expenses related to work accidents, whereas a $15,000 is paid out under an insurance policy. A range of $57,000 to $170,000 is to be compensated under WICA for death cases, but a maximum of $40,000 is paid out under insurance. (Figures cited here are based on the Foreign Maid Insurance from NTUC Income.)

The domestic workers do not get much security at work, do they? With the rising costs of employing these foreign domestic helpers, are employers ready to pin greater liability on themselves, having to pay for insurance and still be subjected to even more compensation when necessary? Will employers want them to be included in the Employment Act?

Rightly, employers need not worry if they can guarantee a safe workplace, and hadn’t treated these maids as chattels (whereby maids are objectified).

It is all good, noble and kind to champion workplace equality for all these workers. But human rights come with a price tag. Are Singaporeans ready to open a can of worms? That, I’m not very sure. Money is after all a sensitive issue that will rile people up.

Don’t get me wrong, I do commiserate with the plight of these workers. I’m not an employer of domestic workers myself, thus I’m in no position to speak on behalf of everyone else; but I’m guessing that they would prefer the status quo.


Migrant workers are all covered under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), but this Act does not pertain to protection and benefits, unlike the Employment Act.

 

About the author

Mendi Ang

Mendi Ang is a young (patriotic) Singaporean student. Her musings can be gathered from her travel observations, chats with adorable old ice cream uncles and even your conversations on the train. Inspiration is all around.

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