x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rights groups applaud Singapore's 'significant step' in maids law

Worker and human-rights groups praised Singapore for its decision to require maids to have one day off a week, saying it will bring the country closer to international labour norms.

SINGAPORE // Worker and human-rights groups praised Singapore for its decision to require maids to have one day off a week, saying it will bring the country closer to international labour norms.

Rights groups had urged the government to bolster safeguards for the city-state's 206,000 domestic workers, who mostly come from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India.

Employers are not currently legally required to give domestic workers any days off, while local and non-maid foreign workers are allowed at least one day off a week. But, starting next year, maids must receive one day off a week or additional compensation to work that day the manpower ministry.

"We are happy to note that Singapore is taking a significant step forward toward matching domestic laws and policies with international labour standards," Trina Liang Lin, the president of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, said in a statement. "It is simply the right thing to do."

About one in five Singapore households has a full-time, live-in maid.

The manpower minister, Tan Chuan-Jin, said the new rules will be applied to all maid contracts that begin after January 1, 2013. Rights groups called for the day off to be implemented immediately.

"The Singaporean government's recognition of a weekly rest day as a basic labour right will make the lives of migrant domestic workers better," said Nisha Varia, senior women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. "But this important reform should go into effect this year and apply to all domestic workers and their current contracts."

Rights groups were also concerned that employers will be able to pay maids one day's wages to work on a day off, if maids agree. Workers who are not maids are entitled to two days' salary for working on a day off.

Employers can cancel a maid's contract at any time without cause, and some employers may threaten maids to accept extra pay instead of taking a day off, the Singapore-based Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics, or Home, said.

Mr Tan told parliament on Monday that some families said they are against giving maids days off because they could socialise and become pregnant during their free time.

"Some employers felt that their maids don't need a rest day because they have enough rest on a daily basis, or that giving maids a weekly rest day will make it difficult for employers to cope when they need a break during their own days off," Mr Tan said. "One oft-repeated concern is the fear that maids will misbehave or become less compliant as a result."

According to a manpower ministry study, most employers give maids at least one day off a month, but many do not give any days off.

"We need to treat our foreign labour force decently," Mr Tan said. "There's a minority of irresponsible employers who flout the rules and mistreat their foreign workers."

The change to the labour law must be approved by parliament. It is expected to pass because the government holds the vast majority of seats.