Weekly rest day essential for maids, especially during circuit breaker period: Centre for Domestic Employees

SINGAPORE - APRIL 16:  Safety distancing markers are seen on the seats and floor of a train on April 16, 2020 in Singapore. Singapore government makes it mandatory for everyone to wear a mask outside with effect from April 14 as part of stricter measures after closing non-essential workplaces and schools temporarily for a month from April 7 to contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
Safety distancing markers are seen on the seats and floor of a train on 16 April 2020 in Singapore. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) is reminding employers that the weekly rest day is even more important for foreign domestic workers (FDW) during the country’s partial lockdown, as their workload is likely heavier than usual.

“When the FDW takes her rest day at home, employers and family members must respect her privacy and personal time. Employers can also encourage their FDW to use the home WIFI and mobile communications technology to keep in touch with her friends and family and stay updated to the news,” said the CDE in a statement on Thursday (17 April).

The CDE also urged employers to give their helpers short breaks during working days, noting that some feel obliged to work even on their off days.

Under the umbrella of the National Trades Union Congress, the CDE is a domestic worker advocacy group led by executive director Shamsul Kamar and chairman Yeo Guat Kwang, who both ran in 2015 as People’s Action Party candidates in Aljunied GRC.

Numerous issues on the ground

The CDE said that it has been working to address the concerns of FDWs and employers over the COVID-19 pandemic since late January this year, through its network of 800 volunteers and ambassadors.

In early March, when Singapore raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert level to orange, its 24-hour helpline received 20 per cent more calls than usual. “Some of the queries were from employers wishing to know how they can explain to their FDWs on the need to stay home during rest days. FDWs also called to check on why their employers were asking them to stay home because they did not know about the Ministry of Manpower advisory.”

The CDE added that when the country went into a partial lockdown starting 7 April, it did not see an increase in the volume of helpline calls. “This may be because many FDWs and employers were more or less updated on the developments in Singapore and the rest of the world on the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Part of the “circuit breaker” measures – announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 3 April – include the closure of schools and most workplaces. Only essential services like food establishments, markets and supermarkets, transport, and key banking services will remain open during the month-long closure.

Over the weekend, the authorities issued a slew of additional measures, including the closure of beaches, facilities in parks and gardens and playfields. Stadiums have also been closed, while parents are not allowed to drop off their children with grandparents on a daily basis.

But some helpers have expressed concerns that they are not comfortable with doing grocery shopping during the circuit breaker period and find it difficult to bring up the topic with their employers. Among other issues, employment agencies said they have found it difficult to bring new FDWs to Singapore, while helpers who want to go home are unable to do so as there are no flights available.

FDWs can call the CDE helpline at 1800 2255 233 (1800-CALL-CDE) for advice and assistance.

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