A recent poll by Yahoo! Singapore revealed that most respondents are opposed to making it mandatory for employers to give domestic workers in Singapore one day off a week.
Of the 13,782 users who participated in the poll, 6,375 users --46 percent -- responded "No" to the question on whether Singapore should pass a law to give domestic helpers a compulsory day off.
6,059 users -- 44 percent -- said "Yes", while 1,348 users said that they "can't be bothered".
Halimah said, "If a rest day a week is not possible, then these workers should at least be compensated in cash."
Under standard employment contracts for maids, the number of rest days each month is stipulated, and should the maids agree to work on their rest day, employers are required to pay them an agreed amount of compensation, usually between S$20 and S$50, TODAY reported.
The Ministry of Manpower has said it is reviewing the call to grant domestic workers weekly rest days or compensation in lieu, and that it will entertain input from stakeholders. The public may send their suggestions and comments to email@example.com.
Elma, a Filipino who has been a domestic helper in Singapore for the last 20 years, said that there is a current misconception that maids will usually loiter outside Lucky Plaza on their off days.
The 44-year-old said, "When maids take days off, they may just stay at home and take a break instead of hanging out with their friends."
When asked whether maids should have a mandatory day off, she said, "Of course they should make it into a law. Maids need the rest just like normal human beings."
Misconceptions about penalties
In comments to the story about Minister Halimah's suggestion, most Yahoo! Singapore users indicated that they were against the idea. Some of them cited what they believed were current government policies placing financial liability on employers for wayward helpers as a reason not to award frequent off days.
"It's really the penalty that employers get if something happens to the maid. We are being placed (held) responsible for them, day off or not. How is the government protecting us as employers?" said Yahoo! Singapore user I-care-for-singapore.
Another respondent Rachel asked, "What are the government policies to ensure no moonlighting (by) the foreign domestic worker? If this law is legislated, what consequences will be imposed onto the employers if they do not abide? Fine and jail again?"
The users believed that employers could lose the security bond of $5,000 if a maid gets pregnant.
But under new rules implemented by MOM in January 2010, employers only need to inform maids of the work permit conditions and inform the authorities if a maid breaches any such conditions. Should their maids violate work permit conditions, the employer's security bond will not be forfeited, The Straits Times reported.
However, if a maid absconds and cannot be found, the employer could still lose half of their security deposit.
Make it a guideline only?
Madam Maggie Pay, a 52-year-old cashier, has had three domestic helpers in the past 10 years. The helpers were hired to cope with the needs of her 98-year-old mother-in-law.
Pay disagrees with the weekly off days and feels that it should be a guideline and not something that is cast in stone. Pay has had experience with maids falling into bad company after allowing them mobile phones and frequent days off.
"I don't think the suggestion should be made a law. It really depends on the maid. My current maid has a mobile phone and goes on off days once in a while when she requests for one. She's unlike the other maids I've had who fell into bad company and created problems for me," said Pay.
"Ultimately, it really depends on the maid and if they are responsible enough even on their off days," Pay added.
Issue of fairness and equality
Russell Heng, president of advocacy organisation Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), said that Halimah's suggestion is "rather overdue". Heng added the current situation surrounding days off is not working.
"From the point of fairness and equality, the current off-day policies aren't working. There are many instances of domestic workers working unhappily and that can lead to bad consequences such as abuse and so on," Heng said.
"Look at Taiwan and Hong Kong, two countries that are very similar to Singapore, they have obligatory off days for their domestic workers," Heng added.
"Such a move will not appease everyone, but we should be fair and see what the foreign domestic workers want," Heng said.
On how the group is working on changing the mind sets of employers, he said, "We tell employers that it might be in your interest if such a law is legislated. A happy worker is a good worker."