Please overhaul the Foreign Domestic Worker industry


The Ministry of Manpower had announced a new grading scheme and a customer ratings system for employment agencies. The initiatives are targeted at improving professionalism and service standards of these agencies.

The grading assessment will help employers find domestic workers that suit household needs, claims the MoM.

The exercise, though laudable. Is not enough.

There is a magnificent lack of trust in the domestic worker industry and this had led to a variety of ill outcomes. To begin with, the hiring practices have turned maids into a product…a mere commodity.

Have a look at these commonly used phrases:

  • “If your maid no good, just go and change lah”
  • “We give you unlimited changes when you get your maid”
  • “Eh…where did you get your maid from ah?”
  • “Does your maid eat with you at the table? Mine does, is it normal”?
  • “If your maid talk back to you, must change her already”
  • “Which country better? Myanmar will talk back right? Philippines is expensive but more obedient right?”

If I replaced the word “maid” with “robot” or “computer”, it would fit in perfectly. Does the maid not sound like a product to you? It is already in the language we use!

Every little thing that goes wrong, the employer’s knee jerk response is to “change” the maid or to “send her back”.

To many a Singaporean employer, a maid is a machine devoid of rights, feelings and choices. And they deserve to be treated as such because they came here for the money. If you’re paying them money, you can ask them to do whatever you want right?

Here’s shocking news: they are workers. They are employees just like the rest of us. The unfortunate difference is that they are not protected by the Employment Act like we are. If you breach a contract with them or negligently cause them an accident, they will not have the resources to sue you in civil court. The amount of protection they get from the Ministry of Manpower is minimal compared to the physical/economical injuries they can face. There is a practice of suddenly “sending them back” to their home countries without their knowledge. Maids that are “returned” to the agencies suddenly become inferior because previous employers don’t want them.

On the other hand, a wider range of employer’s liability incurred by is covered by the insurance you buy, not the tax payers.

In the point of view of the worker, they see Singaporean employers as an evil bunch – they are warned of ill treatment, loss of privacy, they’re unable to use or even own mobile phones. What they eat, what they say, where they go, what they do… is all being restrained by the employer.

The agencies are no better.

They parade the maids like products in their shops. They add very little value to the hiring process. Apart from a Skype interview, employers have little to base their hiring decisions on. For this reason, they rely on silly stereotypes to help them hire: pretty maids are not good cause they’ll sleep with your husband. Large sized ones will be strong. Maids that use makeup are vain and cannot concentrate. Sleepy looking maids are lazy.

I once asked a maid agency in Katong about how they can help if my helper becomes pregnant (an act which attracts fines by the MoM). “Oh, just come to us – we’ll throw her on the plane, send her back without her knowing and then help you replace with another one”. That was horrible attitude. They could have just said that the insurance you buy will pay for the liability.

The whole industry is tainted with irresponsibility, a lack of trust, exploitation and is in dire need of repair. We need new laws, new policies, new agencies and plenty of consultation with employers, employees and the agencies.

It is very urgent. We have seen too many lost lives, torture and injury to both maids and employers alike. Not just the employers themselves, but their children and elderly.

Let’s bring back the trust.



  1. This is somethings we as Agencies have been asking MOM to do for a long time. The accreditation, grading system and customer ratings is not going to solve the real problems plaguing this industry. No one is an angel here. Everyone is at fault in some way or another. The only way to attempt to make it better is to have everyone come together and trash out the issues and reach some common ground. Not take the easiest way out and increase the costs for the customer and business.

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