SINGAPORE - In the first 100 days since opening on Jan 24, the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE) has handled close to 100 calls for assistance, with one quarter being disputes and reports of mistreatment.
The centre, which is run by the National Trades Union Congress, has sheltered seven domestic helpers while their cases are being investigated.
To minimise the chances of disputes between employers and employees, the CDE on Wednesday (May 4) recommended developing a training and certification framework modelled after the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ), as well as a more transparent cost structure for placement fees.
"While CDE is taking an upstream and proactive approach to help mitigate these issues at the source, a community-wide effort is required to help improve the domestic employment landscape," said CDE chairman Yeo Guat Kwang.
The details of the two initiatives are being worked out by two workgroups including employment agency associations, and should be ready by the end of this year, said Mr Yeo.
Some of the skills they are considering placing under the framework are conversational English, housekeeping, cleaning, cooking, laundry and eldercare. Maids would be trained under comparable courses in their home countries, so that when they come to Singapore they can easily have their skills certified under the WSQ.
Meanwhile, the cost structure is meant to show the breakdown of the fees involved for both employers and domestic workers before they enter into an employment contract.
"It is important for us to sort out the structure, so that everyone who comes to Singapore to work knows exactly how much it will cost them, and employers looking for good domestic helpers will also know how much they should pay for the service to hire them," said Mr Yeo, speaking at a media briefing.
Businesswoman Sarah Ong, 41, who employs a domestic helper from Myanmar, Ms Sui Men, 25, supported the idea of a certification framework. "Some employers are willing to pay, but are unable to find the right candidates with skills like eldercare, nursing or baby-sitting," she said, adding that beyond hard skills, soft skills such as cultural understanding are also very important for a good working relationship.
She said that she hopes the placement fees can be lowered for both maids and employers, although she would not mind footing a bigger proportion of the bill "if I have a quality helper who will stay on and is committed".
CDE representatives met with key government officials, recruitment agencies, non-government organisations and training providers in the Philippines and Indonesia in March and April respectively, as part of the centre's research into the two initiatives.
It also recommended employers crediting maids' salaries directly into their bank accounts, and taking up medical insurance schemes which provide higher coverage for domestic employees beyond the minimum $15,000 per year. It said that it had found that most employers are not told by agents how much medical coverage they are paying for, as the insurance premiums are combined with the security bond and personal accident insurance.
Mr Yeo said the centre is also in the process of applying for Institution of Public Character status for its Domestic Employees Welfare Fund, which will allow it to issue tax deductible receipts to donors. The fund will provide support for maids who need help, for example if they have been abused and need shelter and food.
The CDE will launch an in-depth survey within the next month to study the issues in the domestic employment landscape.
This month, it launched a thank-you campaign as part of May Day celebrations, which includes handing out thank you cards to domestic workers at parks and encouraging preschoolers at all 141 NTUC First Campus centres to give thank you cards to the domestic helpers who care for them.