Domestic workers have contributed to our homes in many ways especially in cases where both man and wife need to actively contribute to the household income, leaving dependents home alone. When my wheelchair-bound grandmother was still alive, it was our domestic helper who helped her with her daily needs when she couldn’t control her bowels or perform simple tasks independently. Although I couldn’t communicate very much with her (I can be quite a loner sometimes), I was deeply grateful to her services when she left after my grandma departed.
Many of them work hard. I have seen neighbour’s domestic helpers waking at 5am to start her chores and end only after midnight. They suffer from homesickness, lack of social interactions, thus in some cases causing prolonged stress that might cause them to act out of the norm. Humans are not hermits by nature and cannot live in solitary. Many of these domestic workers come from rural villages; leaving loved ones in poverty and alien to the pace of our city, yet they have no one to pour these woes. No matter how close we are with our bosses, I’m sure you heave a sigh of relief when you can get out of their sight. The same applies to our domestic helpers, they deserve a breather. A space to share home tales with friends who support each other emotionally in a foreign land.
Most of us who hire domestic helpers do need them more than just helping around the household. Usually to look after our elderly parents or young children especially in our absence. Hence, it is understandable that it may not always be possible to let them off for an entire day a week when their presence is so closely knitted with our families. Therefore, there is an option to compensate them for their extra hours, and I think this is something we should honor by in all humanity. To be fair, they work to provide for their families as much as we do.
Surely, I’ve also known of domestic helpers who lose discipline and become acquainted with the wrong company, inevitably bringing personal problems to the homes of employers. Employers may also have qualms as they risk losing the $5,000 bond when their worker disappears. Well, for the latter, you don’t have to worry as only 0.04% of employers lose their bond each year and there are existing insurance schemes known as Waiver of Counter Indemnity to protect you from such incidents. As for the former, I suggest an agreement and clear rules to be made with your domestic helper from day one of her service. I always think it is better to be stern and nasty at first (putting out all the rules on the table), then amiable and kind later.
I would encourage government agencies, embassies and community groups to consider creating meaningful, affordable events for foreign workers to keep themselves healthily occupied and making new friends at the same time. These events could also be an avenue to identify workers in distress and who may require help and counselling from welfare groups. I believe this will help Singapore in portraying ourselves as a friendlier country and better help our domestic helpers fit into our cultures.
Singaporeans have often cried out for more laws to give them improved equality, better work-life balance, more freedom, etc. Denying foreign domestic helpers their basic rights to a day off a week seems for us to be a tad hypocritical.
Some argue that giving their maids a day off could possibly lead to them abusing their freedom and mixing with the wrong company. There is no guarantee this won’t happen. Equally, there is no guarantee it will happen. There are over 200,000 foreign domestic helpers in Singapore. To penalise them all because of a few bad apples seems unfair. Perhaps a simple reasonable agreement between both parties can help minimise these problems. A certain flexibility in reaching a common understanding can go a long way.
Being a domestic helper in a foreign land is not an easy job. So let’s start by treating our foreign domestic helpers with a little respect.
As the saying goes, “Do unto others as you would them do to you.”