Live-in nature of work a stress factor for maids

We sympathise with Ms Teng Soo Ling's concern about the abuse of the elderly or children under the care of a migrant domestic worker ("Cameras guard against abuse by maids"; last Tuesday).

Looking after our loved ones is an important responsibility, and it is reasonable to expect them not to be harmed.

However, it is important to remember that the live-in nature of domestic work is stressful for many maids.

The exclusion of domestic work from the Employment Act means that limits to working hours, public holidays and 24-hour days off are not guaranteed. Unlike employees in other occupational settings, there are no clear boundaries to distinguish between work, rest and standby time.

Thirteen- to 16-hour work days are common for these women, and those looking after infants and the infirm elderly may even work round the clock. Extensive research has shown a positive correlation between caregiver stress and abuse, although it has to be emphasised that cases of domestic workers harming those in their care are very rare indeed.

Employers who wish to reduce the likelihood of their workers abusing the loved ones under their care should take steps to ensure that their domestic workers are not working excessive hours, and that their physical and psychological well-being is taken care of.

Many will have their own rooms to sleep in and rest between work. However, there are many others who do not have any private space and end up sleeping in hallways, living rooms and kitchens, in the presence of surveillance cameras.

If an employer is unable to provide the worker her own private space, surveillance cameras should not be installed where she sleeps at night.

In a recent study conducted among 670 domestic workers, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics found that the invasion of privacy was a risk factor in mental health.

The same study also found that factors conducive to positive mental health are a perceived sense of integration into the employer's family, a perceived feeling of privacy and a positive perception of being treated with dignity.

Sufficient rest and having one's own room to sleep in were also found to be crucial for good mental health.

Jolovan Wham
Executive Director
Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics

Noorashikin Abdul Rahman (Dr)
President
Transient Workers Count Too

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2015, with the headline 'Live-in nature of work a stress factor for maids'. Print Edition | Subscribe