As much as I understand maid employers' concern over the issue of mobile phone use, I would like to highlight the plight of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) if they are not allowed access to their mobile phones ("More employers unhappy over maids' mobile phone usage"; last Sunday).
Mobile phones are primarily used by many FDWs to keep in touch with their loved ones at home. This channel of communication is crucial to the mental and emotional well-being of the FDWs, as this will give them the peace of mind to focus on their job, which actually benefits their employers.
Working and living in a foreign country can be very lonely. Distressed FDWs know they can receive the much-needed emotional support by just calling our hotline or their fellow FDWs. In fact, our hotline is filled with calls from them, citing loneliness and the fear of being left alone as their major concern.
The issue at hand is really not about depriving them of their mobile phones but more about managing expectations, and education. As in any other work setting, there are fair practices related to Internet access and telephone use.
Therefore, a similar set of fair practices can be appropriated by the employers.
By so doing, it brings about a better understanding and the safeguarding of each other's interests, resulting in a win-win situation for both sides.
Employment agencies can also play an influential role in educating the FDWs, especially the new ones, on the appropriate use of mobile phones.
FDWs can be educated on the cost of usage, the dangers of engaging strangers on social media and the need to keep within their employer's expectations. If necessary, this can be included in the terms of employment. In fact, I understand some employment agencies have already done so.
I look forward to seeing fair engagement from employers in setting proper and reasonable expectations, fair practices, coupled with education on the use of mobile phones by their FDWs instead of prohibiting them from using it.
Seah Seng Choon
Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training