Herrera: Singapore won’t let maids rest

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 24, 2006

Claims new contract makes one day off a month optional for employers

Former Philippine senator and general secretary of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) Ernesto Herrera said in a statement today that Singapore is treating maids from the Philippines and other developing economies unfairly by potentially denying them even one day off a month.

“We find it absolutely deplorable that a highly evolved state like Singapore would deny foreign maids such a reasonable and simple concession as a weekly day of rest,” said Herrera, criticizing a new “non-binding” contract that gives employers the option to grant their maids one day off monthly.

Employers can opt to compensate their maids financially rather than give the day off, according to a statement issued by Herrera’s office.

There are more than 150,000 foreign maids working in Singapore. More than half, almost 82,000, are Filipinos according to the Philippine Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). Other foreign maids come primarily from Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

The US-based Human Rights Watch also cautioned in a separate statement that the contract could be abused, given the “imbalance of power between employers and domestic workers. Domestic workers need regular days off to rest, to escape isolation at work, and sometimes to report absue,” the statement said.

According to CFO, Filipino maids account for 60 percent of all Filipino workers in the city-state. Others work as computer programmers, architects, engineers, nurses, construction and factory laborers, and hotel staff and musicians. Filipino workers in Singapore remitted to the Philippines a total of $240.15 million last year, a 32 percent increase over 2004, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Philippines’ central bank.

Herrera urged the Singapore manpower ministry to reconsider the contract to provide for a mandatory once-a-week day off. All agencies providing maids to Singapore citizens and residents must adopt the new contract by September 15 this year.

The Philippines relies heavily on remittances from overseas workers. Annual remittances exceed $10 billion, and help to sustain the country’s consumer-driven economy. Critics note that as a result of this reliance on overseas workers, the Philippines does not do enough to create reasonable-paying jobs at home.

It probably doesn’t do enough to set an example for Singapore, either. It is extremely rare for a maid to receive a weekly day off in the Philippines, according to an informal survey I conducted. Most do get a day off every month, but that’s far from guaranteed, and there’s no compensation when days off are missed.

Fairness should start at home.

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