More maids from Cambodia next year

The Manpower Ministry approved Cambodia as the 13th and latest source country for domestic workers in October.
The Manpower Ministry approved Cambodia as the 13th and latest source country for domestic workers in October.PHOTO: ST FILE

But maid agencies are divided on their popularity with employers

Maid agencies plan to bring in 1,000 to 1,200 maids from Cambodia next year - three times the number now in Singapore.

The Manpower Ministry approved Cambodia as the 13th and latest source country for domestic workers in October.

Ms K. Jayaprema, who oversees the 340-strong Association of Employment Agencies Singapore, said yesterday that these figures were "a conservative estimate" and more could be recruited in future.

A lukewarm pilot programme that began in 2013 saw six agencies struggle to recruit 400 domestic workers because of factors like the language barrier.

"That was to be expected - teething problems that arise with a new source country that some may be sceptical about," said Ms Jayaprema. "But as more agencies get on board, employers will also slowly become more familiar with Cambodian maids."

To tackle the language barrier, agencies are focusing on training new workers and helping them learn English.

"We will hand-hold our member agencies and assist them with training," said Ms Jayaprema, who led a team from 26 agencies to meet Cambodian counterparts earlier this month. "As a source country, I don't see Cambodia as too different from Myanmar."

There are about 237,100 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. Maids from Myanmar account for around 13 per cent, but the majority still come from Indonesia and the Philippines.

Maid agency Nation Employment, which took part in the pilot, welcomed the addition of Cambodia as a source country. It has brought in about 250 Cambodian maids to date.

"Our employers appreciated the helpers we brought in. Many of them had experience working in Malaysia, and some could also speak Mandarin or dialect," said managing director Gary Chin.

"They may not be the preferred choice but, given time, they can be one of the choices."

But another agency in the pilot, whose operations manager asked not to be named, said her company will not bring in more Cambodian maids for now.

"While their slightly lower salary might be attractive to some, language is still a huge barrier," she said. Monthly wages for Cambodian maids stand at roughly $450 for new workers and $500 for experienced ones, while Indonesian and Filipino maids must be paid at least $550 a month.

Other firms, like Orange Employment Agency, are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

Owner Shirley Ng said: "For now, Cambodians don't seem to be a popular option. Their employers would probably be those who are more patient as they have to deal with the languge barrier."

Ms Jayaprema noted that Singapore must compete with markets like Taiwan and Hong Kong for workers from traditional source countries, which have in turn expressed their desire to have women leave only for more skilled jobs.

"Taking all these factors into consideration, it is only wise that we cast our net wider," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'More maids from Cambodia next year'. Print Edition | Subscribe