Cases of maids falling to their deaths while at work could soon be a thing of the past, when a new safety awareness programme for foreign domestic helpers is introduced at the end of the month (30 June).
The course is jointly run by non-governmental organisation, Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Skills Training (FAST) and Grace Management and Consultancy Services, which also conducts the one-day Settling-In-Programme (SIP) for all new maids.
Launched last month, the SIP covers issues such as work safety, relationship and stress management, and life in Singapore. It replaced the English entry test, which came under review last year when an Indonesian maid killed herself after failing the test thrice.
In comparison, the new four-hour safety course will focus on teaching maids how to work safely in Singapore.
FAST’s president Seah Seng Choon told Yahoo! Singapore that the programme will be a mix of lectures and practical sessions.
He explained, “The lectures will teach the safety aspects that participants need to look out for when they perform certain tasks like cleaning windows, changing light bulbs, using the ladder or watching out for hazardous things when they work at home. For the practical segment, the maids will be provided with equipment to do cleaning and they will be taught how to perform their tasks in a safe manner.”
The course costs $5 and employers who wish to attend the programme with their maids have to pay the non-subsidised fee of $30.
Seah added that maids who have not gone through the SIP or other safety awareness courses will be given priority to attend the new course.
News of the new programme are welcomed by employers, domestic helpers and maid agencies contacted by Yahoo! Singapore.
Gary Chin, Director of Nation Employment said that the new course will help but felt that FAST should partner more training providers so that it can be held at more locations, and benefit more people.
“FAST should conduct the programme with other service providers like ECON Careskill Training Centre that also conducts the SIP. They should extend to them and help the industry,” he added.
One employer believed the new programme “is a good measure as it covers safety points for the maids with regards to the usual household chores”.
"It’ll also be great if the programme is held on weekends to cater to employers who are busy on weekdays,” said the 39-year-old civil servant who wanted to be known only as Goh.
Another employer, executive secretary, Eunice Tan, who’s in her late 30s and recently employed a new maid from The Philippines said, “The programme is helpful for those who are working for the first time in high-rise apartments as it will highlight the importance of safety and the precautions to take.”
Filipino maid, Thelma Pigao, 41, who has worked here for 19 years, agreed that the safety programme is a good idea as “it would remind maids not to be careless when performing household chores especially when they are not always aware of their surroundings”.
Since January, there have been nine fatal cases of maids falling from heights, compared to four cases last year and eight in 2010.
To address the problem, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) recently banned maids from cleaning window exteriors unless two conditions are met: That the employer, or an adult representative is present or there are window grilles, which must be locked during the cleaning.
But Jolovan Wham, executive director of foreign workers’ help group, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME), said FAST’s new programme will not improve the situation as “education will not get to the root of the problem”.
“Maids are already being taught the importance of safety and how to ensure it, so introducing the new programme that centres on working safely is not any more substantially different from what has already been done,” he said.
Instead, Wham suggested a total ban on cleaning the exterior of windows. He said, “The Workplace Safety and Health Act covers the safety of other jobs but it excludes domestic work so we don’t see the household as a work site. Our position is that the household has to be included in the Act and part of it will entail banning cleaning of windows.”
Another employer, executive Kat Tan, 38, agreed with Wham. “Whether or not there is such a programme on work safety for maids, it is still up to individual employers to ensure his or her maid’s safety,” she said.
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