Call to give maids more privacy, time with loved ones

Migrant workers study finds one in 5 shows signs of psychological distress

A migrant workers group has urged employers to give their maids more privacy and allow them to communicate regularly with friends and family.

These factors are crucial in keeping maids happy, said the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), whose study found that about one in five maids here showed signs of psychological problems.

Released yesterday, the study had asked around 670 maids about their living and employment conditions, as well as their mental well-being.

About 27 per cent of respondents said their employers have entered and searched their rooms or checked their phones, while 73 per cent were restricted from communicating with their friends and family members.

The maids were selected randomly and completed a questionnaire administered by Home volunteers. The study was led by psychologist Anja Wessels.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Home, said: "Employers should be mindful of their domestic workers' privacy and allow them to form a strong support network. This will ensure that the workers are respected and get the support they need."

The study also included questions from the Brief Symptom Inventory, a test which ascertains mental health issues.

The results showed that about 24 per cent showed signs of psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and hostility.

However, these problems can be eased if maids in distress are encouraged to reach out to friends and family members and migrant workers groups, said the report.

The study also found that the maids tend to work long hours, on average 13 hours, and four in 10 did not have a weekly day off.

Most maid employers kept the workers' passports (67 per cent) and employment contracts (60 per cent).

Employers interviewed said treating domestic workers like family members will help them adjust to life in Singapore better.

"My maid goes out with my family on weekends. I also check in on her regularly to find out how she is doing," said human resource director Patricia Yeo, 38.

Domestic workers said they appreciate employers who show concern for them.

"Some domestic workers may be afraid to share their problems," said Indonesian maid Sri Wahyuni, 33. "It helps if employers ask us how we are doing."

ameltan@sph.com.sg