A pilot scheme has thrown a lifeline to families in urgent need of a maid, allowing them to get help within days instead of months.
Since August, the Advance Placement Scheme, facilitated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), has matched over 30 foreign domestic workers with families here which need help urgently.
The programme is open to employers who are hiring a foreign domestic worker to care for a child, elderly person, or person with disability living at the same registered address as them.
"Some households have more urgent need for foreign domestic workers to give care to their elderly or young children," noted an MOM spokesman.
Hence the ministry has decided to facilitate the scheme that was proposed by employment agencies, she said.
The spokesman added: "Under this pilot, approved employment agencies are allowed to source for and bring in a specific number of foreign domestic workers with relevant caregiving skills and then match them with households that have urgent caregiving needs, such as for young children and the elderly."
Matching maids and employers
EMPLOYMENT AGENCIES UNDER THE ADVANCE PLACEMENT SCHEME
A4 Employment Agency
Active Global Specialised Caregivers
Brilliant Sky Employment Agency
Hon Employment Services
Max Employment Agency
Patience Employment Agency
Skills & Resources Consultancy
Currently, nine employment agencies are allowed under the scheme to bring foreign domestic helpers to Singapore before they are hired by an employer.
The usual practice is for employers to interview potential helpers while they are in their home countries through Skype or phone. Only after an employer decides to hire a helper does the process of bringing the helper to Singapore begin.
Employment agencies said the scheme, which is being tried out for a year, has shortened the wait for a helper from up to two months to just three days. Employers who hire a helper under the scheme pay a premium, typically a few hundred dollars more than the usual fees.
Ms Carene Chin, managing director of employment agency Homekeeper, said that before the initiative was started, the only option for employers in urgent need of help was to seek out transfer maids.
"But there aren't many of them to begin with, and they may not have the necessary caregiving skills, so employers are often left feeling helpless," she said.
Ms Yorelle Kalika, chief executive of Active Global Specialised Caregivers, an agency that brings in foreign nurses on work permits, the same pass given to maids, has often come across clients in desperate need of a caregiver for a relative about to be discharged from hospital. "In situations like these, a quick and efficient solution is the most important," she said.
Through the scheme, accountant Joey Lee, 38, found a caregiver with medical training for her father, who has cancer, in just six days from Active Global last month.
Hospital staff had told her her father would not be discharged unless he had a full-time caregiver, as they felt her mother needed help.
Ms Lee would normally have had to wait for at least two to three weeks. "It would have been very stressful," she said.
Employers added that being able to speak to the maids in person reduced the chances of misunderstandings about the job scope.
"A face-to-face interview allows us to access their body language as well, which gives us an idea about whether they are really okay with the job scope or feel obliged to say yes," said Mr Kenny Goh, 34, who is self-employed.
Mr Goh speaks from experience: one such misunderstanding led to disagreements with a previous maid. "My wife wanted her to do light cooking daily, but she said she wanted to cook only once a week. She wasn't good with the baby either," he said.
Thanks to the scheme, Mr Goh found a replacement maid to care for his one-year-old daughter within a week instead of a month.
As his new maid was already in Singapore, he could let her try carrying and interacting with his daughter. "My daughter is usually quite fussy and doesn't like strangers, but she didn't cry and instead smiled when my helper carried her, and that assured us that it was a good match," he said.