23 October 2012

Rights of a Foreign Domestic Worker - Part 3 of 3

This is the third and final installment regarding Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW).  The online orientation program highlights the rights of a foreign domestic worker and issues that may arise between a helper and the employer.

This is by no means a complete or detailed list but it gives the reader an idea at least:

1. Be paid their salary on time each month.  A leeway of 7 days delay is legally provided by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).  My husband gets paid the day before our helper is paid so it's easy to remember to pay her on time.

2. Minimum one day off a month, although MOM is looking at changing that to every week.  Many helpers don't have the luxury of time off at all, so making it a legal requirements sure provides them with much needed rest, time to socialise with their friends and an opportunity to leave the house and get some mental space.

3. Have minimum 8 hours of rest per day. Helpers typically are on call or working 14 hours a day with short breaks in between.  Many are up well before 6.00pm to care for infants, clean and prepare breakfast before they start the school run and the rest of the day's chores.

4. One return trip to her country of origin bi-annually paid for by the employer. If FDW chooses not to go than the cost of the ticket is paid as cash to the FDW.  For most employers that's less than SGD$500 given that most FDWs are from nearby countries.

5. Be provided three nutritional meals per day. You’d be surprised how many are forced to survive on rice alone as their daily intake.  Not much thought goes into understanding that a healthy and nutritiously fed helper, maintains her immunity and is unlikely to pass on any viruses to the child they are usually in charge of.

6. Tolerance as helper adjusts in new environment and be treated with respect. It is not uncommon for less experienced or timid helpers to be mistreated.  Communication can also be a problem if the FDW is not fluent in the language commonly spoken in the home.

7. Do work for employer's household only and care for employer's children only. Often helpers are made to clean the house of other family members who are not the employer. Their contract is limited to the employer’s home address only. They are not even allowed to work for the employer's business as that is construed as a separate job.

8. Six-monthly GP visits are compulsory and payable by the employer.  Since the employer is responsible for all medical costs including an accidental pregnancy, the bi-yearly GP visits gives the employer the opportunity to repatriate the FDW should she end up pregnant. 

9. Employer to provide basic toiletries such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush and a fan.  It is a small price to pay for the service that they provide.

10. An area with privacy to sleep in. Many abodes come with a helper’s room. They are very small (ours is 1.9m x 1.3m) that can barely take a mattress and a couple of drawers. However, you’d be surprised how many helpers don’t have access to privacy and often find themselves sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the lounge room, hallway or often in the baby’s room. We were fortunate enough to find a single bed that fit in the room along with 4 drawers making our helper quite comfortable and with her own privacy.

11. Anything else beyond this can be agreed upon between the two parties.

My final piece of advice is treat your helper as you would like to be treated yourself. Get to know her, her thinking, her values, what she cares about as it will give insight into the kind of character that she is and it may provide you with clues when things may go astray.  It also indicates how she will care for your child when you are not at home.

Be gracious and tolerant with mistakes since we are not perfect humans. Show kindness and patience as she is learning something for the first time. Remember that a happy helper will do so much more for you than an unhappy one. Lead by example and behave professionally rather than emotionally. Your helper is an employee with rights, feelings, wants and needs as well.

Finally, you helper needs to understand and be clear that what happens in the home stays in the home (except for abuse or illegal activities, they are intolerable and should be reported). Agreements between the parties on working hours, time off, salary and such are private. These situations are not open for discussion amongst other helpers. The helper needs to understand that gossip travels and eventually gets back to the employer. The consequences are likely to be unpleasant as trust is broken and the contract may not be up for renewal.