Live-out option can improve maids' welfare

The live-out option proposed by the Indonesian government ("Indonesia plans to stop sending new live-in maids abroad"; last Wednesday) is a welcome move to improve the welfare of migrant domestic workers.

Reactions from employers have so far been lukewarm. While some laud the move for allowing greater privacy for employers and their families, others express reservations about the increased cost of hiring and anxieties regarding their obligations as employers.

It is likely that, in anticipation of the increased cost associated with the live-out option, the proposal from the Indonesian government includes professionalising the training of domestic workers.

The increased cost of hiring is justified by the enhanced skills and capacity.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) should also consider the employers' responsibility to provide accommodation and a food allowance as an alternative to the foreign domestic worker levy. Families facing financial difficulties can receive subsidies to offset these costs.

Some of the current obligations that the MOM has placed on employers will also have to be reviewed.

We agree that the security bond should be abolished because it results in employers feeling the need to control the movement and behaviour of their domestic workers.

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics' report on the mental health of foreign domestic workers released last year pointed to the live-in arrangement of domestic workers as the source of problems affecting them: from excessive working hours and lack of days off to privacy. A whopping 74 per cent reported restrictions in their movement and 73 per cent experienced restrictions communicating with friends and peers.

A live-out option not only enhances the mental health of these women, but also allows employers and their families greater privacy.

Domestic workers, like any other worker, need to have their own lives: they have sold their labour but not their freedom. They should not be treated any differently from other workers in Singapore.

It is shocking to suggest that the live-out option is an excuse for workers to misbehave: The misdemeanours of some are not to be taken as representative of the population.

The MOM should take the Indonesian government's suggestion seriously and extend it to other nationalities. A bilateral agreement with Indonesia should be the first step to making this a reality.

Tam Peck Hoon (Ms)

Head

Legal & Advocacy

Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Live-out option can improve maids' welfare'. Print Edition | Subscribe