Singapore refuses to grant maids mandatory days off

Despite years of lobbying by various NGOs concerned with foreign workers in Singapore, the government continues to reject calls to include foriegn domestic workers within the ambit of the Employment Act which mandates a minimum of one rest day a week.

As the article below reveals, only 50 percent of maids in Singapore are given a regular day off by their employers. Some of them do not even get an irregular day off, but work continuously seven days a week for the entire duration of their contract.

In a separate article is a commentary in Today newspaper calling for maids to be included in Mother’s Day celebrations. See here.

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Source: The Inquirer/Agence France-Presse
26 May 2008

Singapore refuses to grant maids mandatory days off

SINGAPORE — Singapore on Monday maintained its stand against legislating mandatory rest days for foreign domestic helpers, saying they were adequately protected by existing measures.

Acting Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong told parliament his ministry currently requires employers of maids to be responsible for their well-being, including providing them with adequate rest.

He said employers who fail to comply with the requirement face a fine of up to 5,000 Singapore dollars (US$3,670) or a jail term of up to six months, or both.

Employment contracts for maids require employers to stipulate the number of rest days they get per month and also provide that those who are made to work during their rest days should be compensated, Gan said.

“This is a more practical approach than legislating a fixed number of rest days per month for FDWs (foreign domestic workers) given the unique nature of domestic work,” Gan said.

He cited a survey which found that maids said they were “happy” working in the affluent city-state and that the number of abuse cases has remained low.

“There is therefore no need at this point for MOM (ministry of manpower) to legislate a mandatory rest day,” Gan said.

Advocacy groups joined forces last month to launch a campaign to provide foreign maids with rest days, citing a poll showing only about 50 percent of the 170,000 FDWs are given a regular day off.

Some maids are made to work seven days a week during their two-year contract, going out only on errands or when bringing their wards to and from school.

John Gee, president of migrant workers’ advocacy group Transient Workers Count Too, has said denial of a day off remains “a big problem.”

Most of the city-state’s maids come from impoverished villages in Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Their counterparts in Hong Kong are, by law, granted one day off every week and public holidays.

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