Look beyond maids for pool of eldercare workers

The thought now being given to eldercare and the role of domestic workers is welcome, but I suggest that a more radical approach might be considered ("New work pass proposed for maids taking care of elderly"; last Friday, and "Build up capacity to train maids in eldercare" by the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training; Monday).

Rather than simply seeking to train domestic workers as caregivers, the aim for the future should be to recruit and train a growing number of people (mainly women, but there is a need for male workers too) specifically as caregivers, whose primary role would be to provide home-based care to the elderly.

Looking after elderly people can be very demanding, and not everyone is equally able to cope.

It should not be assumed that every woman who is ready to work as a domestic worker can adapt easily to handling eldercare.

Potential eldercare workers should be briefed honestly on the challenges of this work. They should not be encouraged to take it on if they have any doubts about their ability to cope - doing otherwise would be unfair to these women and to those they are expected to look after.

There should be some assessment of their aptitude for this work.

Once they have been trained, the terms of their work need to be clear to all: decent pay, the chance to rest and take time off from what may be quite stressful work, and an understanding that whatever other work they may legitimately be asked to do, it must not be allowed to take precedence over their duty of care provision.

This is essential not only for the well-being of the workers, but also for their ability to perform their job well.

John Gee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Look beyond maids for pool of eldercare workers'. Print Edition | Subscribe