Monday, March 13, 2006

Singapore rejects calls to grant maids mandatory rest days

First posted 09:24pm (Mla time) Mar 09, 2006
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

(UPDATE) SINGAPORE -- Singapore's manpower ministry rejected calls to make rest days for maids mandatory, arguing it would inconvenience families with special needs, The Straits Times newspaper reported Thursday.

"Some households have elderly or infirm members with special needs who require constant attention and may find it difficult to release the domestic worker for a prescribed period every week," said Hawazi Daipi, senior parliamentary secretary for manpower, in Parliament on Wednesday.

Instead, Hawazi said, the government wanted consumer watchdog bodies and maid employment agencies to carry out standard employment contracts that stipulate monthly or weekly rest days.

The ministry's refusal to legislate days off for maids came as a disappointment to activists who have been calling for domestic workers to be protected under the city-state's Employment Act, which states how many days rest an employee is entitled to each week, the newspaper said.

US-based Human Rights Watch said in a report in December that many foreign maids in Singapore endure harsh working conditions such as physical and verbal aggression, threats, restrictions on movement, long work-hours and lack of rest days as well as severe abuse such as physical and sexual violence, abuse by agents, exorbitant debt payments, and aren't protected adequately by labor laws.

Singapore said the report was grossly exaggerated. The government said foreign domestic workers receive "full protection" under the law, and employers who abuse or exploit maids can face fines of up to five thousand Singapore dollars (3,066 US dollars) and jail terms of up to six months.

Daipi said the Ministry of Manpower agrees that all workers should receive adequate rest, and employers who do not provide it can be punished.

The Manpower Ministry also said employers are required to provide meals, ensure work safety, proper housing and prompt salary payment. It stressed the government does not tolerate any abuse or exploitation, and said the domestics choose to work in Singapore because conditions are better than in their homelands.
"As part of the work permit conditions, employers are held responsible for the well-being of their foreign domestic workers, including the provision of adequate rest," he said.

One Filipina maid, who asked to be identified only as Chona, told Agence France-Presse earlier this year that the contract she signed with an employment agency in Manila promised a salary of 350 Singapore dollars (215 US dollars) and at least two days off every month.

But on arrival in Singapore, the agency here told her the salary would be 320 dollars with no days off -- for two years.

About 150,000 maids, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, are employed in Singapore, a wealthy Southeast Asian city-state.

Their counterparts in Hong Kong, where an even larger number of maids work, are granted one day off every week and a day off on public holidays.

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