Tag Archives: domestic workers

Day 24: ALL Women Deserve Some Time Off, including Domestic Workers

9 Mar

I hope that everyone celebrated the International Women’s Day yesterday. And celebrating this, I spent all day with the most important woman in my life, my grandmother, hence the no writing again… But I have thought about today’s topic long and hard over the past 2 days, and hope this makes sense. Some information is obtained from my research for my master’s thesis, so hope you are OK with the “no source” fact for some numbers and such.

Imagine this. In the 21st century, you are living in one of the richest countries in the world (GDP-wise). Your pay is roughly about 80 cents in USD an hour. And your job is practically being on call 24/7 to take care of every bit of a family’s business, from cleaning to playing with young children to taking care of the elderly to cooking to carrying the teenage daughter’s backpack to school (while the girl would be looking into her iPhone).

These are the labor conditions of 200,000+ women from many countries (the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, India, etc.) working as domestic workers in Singapore. Many women leave their family members (including their children and elderly parents) in order to take care of other people’s families so that the dollars they earn can support their own families back home. Most of them earn somewhere between 400-600 SGD (319-478.50 USD), and most amount is sent back to their families for food, education and other basic necessities. Their remittances have not only been essential for their own families but also for their countries’ economic development. And this economic trend of labor migration is not likely to stop in this globalizing world.

Hence, the recent legislation of mandatory day-off in Singapore (starting in 2013) was a move to the right direction, although it is much delayed. It is probably not the “perfect legislation” which will solve all the problems that have existed regarding employment of domestic workers, but I am sure this will prompt better labor practices starting at every home in Singapore which gets help from domestic helpers.

After this announcement was made, obviously some citizens were very unhappy. There were several reasons why I was more than infuriated when I read the opinion of a particular Singaporean citizen on this issue. He is basically claiming that giving maids a day off a week will 1. bring negative impacts on families while there is barely enough hands to maintain the current difficulties with families, 2. cause every maid to want a day off, 3. cause the maids to waste their money because they have more opportunities to spend it and 4. cause them to clog the popular tourist destinations (while it will clearly give bad impression on foreign visitors).

Let me just say this. He (although I’m not sure about the person’s gender) is a privileged racist, sexist and classist. I’m gonna go one by one from the list.

1. The truth of the matter is that many house chores can be manageable even without extra help from maids, except in special cases. The reason why the domestic labor without domestic workers seems so impossible is because there is no fair labor division within the household to begin with. It is likely that the female partner is the only person who has to take care of all the domestic chores with the helper, while the male partner barely does anything, if the family cannot manage a single day a week without the helper’s magic touch.

2. Yes, they will want a day off, and what is the problem? Don’t you, as the employer, have 2 days off while working more or less a regular shift (OK, if you are a workaholic, you probably have almost no day off)? Why shouldn’t someone who has a job working for your family, although it may not be as prestigious as your own somewhere at the Raffles Place, have a single day off so that she can re-charge and be free from the physical and emotional burdens that she has to bear with? And even without the law, there have been many households who are giving their helpers a day off. Are they having serious family crises, because they are giving a day off? I have yet to hear of a single case like that.

3. Here, you are basically saying that since they are not as educated as you are, they are not capable of spending money wisely. Are you aware of the amount of money that they get in a month? Are you aware that most of it goes back to her family so that they can meet their basic needs? You are probably using the same amount of money to get something that is not as meaningful, perhaps a fancy cell phone or a bag.

4. This is just a simple excuse that you want to put on there so that you sound like you are concerned about your own national interest. But the truth is that you just hate the fact that there are a bunch of foreigners (who clearly seem inferior to yourself, you racist) on Orchard Road while you are trying to get to your next destination to spend your precious money. Or maybe you are just blaming your own country that there are not enough place to go for foreign visitors in your island, besides Orchard, a shopping hub.

I don’t mean to demonize all the domestic worker employers or make these workers seem like helpless victims. However, if legal system would continue to justify the violence –which broadly applies to emotional insensitivity such as not giving a single day off in a week— with indifference, as the writer of that opinion piece seems to want, Singapore will eventually have very difficult times having continuous stream of domestic workers. And as the writer seems to know already, they are a very important part of Singapore’s families and economy. I already heard that many women prefer other destinations such as Hong Kong, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, etc. because the conditions in Singapore are not as favorable.

And more importantly, I really wonder why some people may think that guaranteeing basic human dignity is so troublesome. Below is a note from a current domestic worker on Temasek Times, and hope this makes people think.

Put Yourself in Maid’s Shoes

–       Letter from Bhing Navato

WITH all due respect to employers who are complaining about the weekly day off for maids, as a helper, I ask them: Why not be a maid overseas for a month, away from your family, sometimes forbidden to talk to anyone?

Try living in another family’s home to serve them. Would you work without a rest day? You might think homemaking work is easy but it is not because we are just like you.

We are always thinking of how to please our employers, to ensure our job is done before they come home. We are not robots. We get tired, too. We need rest to relax, to work happily the next day.

If others can give regular days off to their helpers, why can’t you not?

(First posted as a comment at http://www.todayonline.com/voices)