April 12, 2008

Plight of Maids in Singapore - Economic suppression to begin with

Over last 5 years of stay in Singapore I have employed several domestic helpers[maids] and have seen and briefly talked to several other maids employed by other friends and colleagues.
Singapore government allows maids from a fixed set of countries to be brought into Singapore. Details of the process, procedure, cost and time can be found from this official website.
There is healthy competition in the market between different agency who supply employers with maids. How ever it seems to be a niche business with very good margin. There is high demand as well in the market for the maids as this allows employers for both the partners to work, to take care of house hold chores, baby sit, look after elders etc, etc. Employing a maid is not very costly either compared to other countries like UK and US where I think it would surely be a luxury to employ a maid legally. Though often it has been seen that employers are not happy with maid to start with because of hidden costs, lost of privacy to some extent at home and other reasons. If we look at the statistics that is produced by CASE majority of the complaints are against maid agencies. Complaints against maid agency out numbers any other category by a huge difference. Any society has mixed set of people there are some employers who are errant and similarly there are some maids who work towards detrimental interest of their employers. How ever something seriously seems to be amiss when it comes to maid agencies. As per me it calls for a reality check by the government agencies.
Now coming to economic hardship that maids have to go at the start of their work life in Singapore which at times doesn't take off and they are thrown into financial chaos. Most of the maids I have talked to including those who I have employed normally pay about 1000 SGD to a broker back home in their countries for getting employed in Singapore. Many a times these ladies have to take loan keeping their house or land or any other similar property as mortgage. These collateral have an average value of about SGD3000 to SGD4000. These loans are not financial transactions under the aegis of any govt approved bank or credit distributing financial organization. These are mostly illegal money lenders who hold clout in the locality maids belong to. This makes these loans very exorbitant and it is kind of guaranteed that if the maid has to return from Singapore for any reason with in about 3 years from taking up work in Singapore she and owner of the collateral will have to forgo the collateral. Moving on and coming to the payments they have to make to the local maid agencies. Normally it's 4 months salary of the maid goes to the maid agency. Maid agency also collects about 4 months salary from the employer. Looking at from employers point of view it may not be a very significant sum but you can think from economic point of view how profitable a biz it is. Biggest barrier for more and more people entering into this biz I think is the moral obligation towards society. This biz looks like you are making money at the cost of other human beings. As per me and my interactions if you are able to deal with this barrier you can have an economically profitable setup in 4 to 6 months of time.
Coming back to the economic plight of the maids. Maids don't end up paying just 4 months of salary but on an average 6 months. This is because agencies will charge additional 2 months for transfer to another employer. As maids are still in learning phase employers often ask for a change.
I have tried talking to 2 of the maid agencies about the deduction that maids have to take from their monthly salary in Singapore. Agencies have always told me that a lot of cost is involved in getting a maid to Singapore and it's not really very profitable. Biggest cost they count is air ticket. Once you tell them these poor maids have paid about 1000 SGD back home for tickets and other expenses. They will promptly tell you they have no idea about this. It's between the maid and their off-shore agent. Putting it in perspective it's like an credit card loan @ 16% of about 10 times of the monthly salary keeping your house as collateral. I am help less and can not do much about but I hope spreading this word will make an impact and some people or organization may come forward with a solution with help from government.

1 comment:

smileyblogs said...

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