You probably don’t know where this was raised, which organisation raised it (hint: not government) or whom made the statement (hint: human rights advocacy), but what’s important is what they raised.
They continue to push for this: Foreign Domestic Workers and Migrant Workers to be protected by the Employment Act.
It sounds noble.
It sounds right.
But is it realistic? Here are 10 things that would happen if we went down that route:
Salaries to hire domestic workers will go up
Cleaners, security officers and landscapers are paid at average $1200. Salaries of FDWs will have to match these and employers will also have to pay a variety of benefits enforced by the Act.
Levy will go up
If salaries have increased, so will the Government’s levy. If this was not so, the mechanisms that control the distribution and restriction of FDWs will not work.
They cannot live in your apartment, or if so, they cannot work at night
The Act limits working hours to 44 hours a week and limits paid overtime. Even if she stays in your house, you may not ask her to work at night… which really makes it redundant for them to be occupying a space in your home.
They have a right to have children and you’ll have to pay maternity leave
8 weeks of maternity leave is granted by the Act and because the Act takes precedence over statutory instruments, maids cannot agree not to get pregnant. When they do get pregnant, you have to pay their salaries whilst they’re on leave…and also look for temporary help in the time that they’re away.
Days of rest and public holidays is enforceable
You cannot deny them rest days and must compensate if you ask them to work. There are hours of rest enforced during the time that they’re working as well.
More disputes will arise
The Employment Act and employment contracts are complex legal arrangements. People get trained in HR for many years and trade unions are involved in employment matters. If you find FDW policies difficult to understand today, it will be exponentially more difficult when parties come into conflict over matters of rights and legalities.
Contracts will become more complicated
You will then have to specify benefits, KPIs, redundancy plans, termination clauses, non-compete, restraint of trade and have to be clear about rights that are implied into employment contracts. All this you won’t be able to do without the help of a lawyer or an agency trained in such matters.
Job-hopping will increase
Employees will then have a right to leave an employer and seek jobs that are not in the domestic worker industry. After all, they’re protected by an Employment Act, they will not be restricted to that one industry.
You take on full employer duties,
This includes training, salary raise, medical/dental benefits, a wide variety of leaves and you may not dismiss them wrongfully. Everything that your company does for you now, you have to do for your FDW. The difference is that your company has the resources to pursue profits and growth, you have only a salary to distribute to your maid.
Eventually, the maids themselves would find the demand for such domestic help decreasing
That is why countries that have rigid labour policies do not practice the employment of domestic workers, at least not unless you’re a Hong Kong property tycoon, Jack Ma or the Queen of England. That is why FDWs cannot find jobs in places like Australia or Europe – no one can afford to pay them, even if what they can afford is better than what they can earn back home.
Now all the above are good rights to pursue, and certainly all workers do deserve these rights. However this nation does not have other options yet.
There are still elders to care for, children to look after – the two core reasons why we hire domestic help. If the Employment Act had blanket effect overnight, many a household is going to suffer badly.
These human rights organisations would do very well to try and speak with the governing institutions, speak with the people on the ground and engage the people locally before going out to the international audience and accusing fellow Singaporeans of being slave drivers.