MOM looking at revising maid levies

Ministry calls for rare closed-door meeting next week to discuss matter

Maid levies could be revised again, say industry players, as the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has called for a rare closed-door discussion next week on theissue.

The ministry sent an e-mail earlier this month inviting maid agents and other interested parties to a meeting to seek their views on the fee, sources told The Straits Times yesterday.

The invitation was a surprise, said agents. Such a discussion had not been called for many years, theysaid.

When the authorities revised the levy previously, agents found out only through official announcements.

Agents believe that next Tuesday's meeting at the ministry would likely lead to a reduction in the tax, the first since 2007 when it went down from $295 to $265.

This meeting comes on the heels of growing concerns over the dwindling supply of foreign maids and increasing demand from helpers to be given higher salaries.

Employers have to pay the Government a monthly maid levy which is meant to moderate the demand and inflow of maids.

Employers have said that they could give higher wages if the Government reduces the levy.

Mr Stephen Chia, who owns 21st Century Employment Agency, said: "It is getting harder to recruit maids to come here because they can draw higher salaries in Taiwan and Hong Kong. More are choosing to stay in Indonesia and the Philippines to work where the economies are improving."

Ms Shirley Ng, owner of Orange Employment Agency, noted that the financial burden on employers has increased as the Indonesian and Philippine authorities have been pushing for their citizens to be paid more.

"Employers are already paying quite a lot to hire a maid. So a reduction in levy will help them," she said.

Employers have to pay Indonesian maids at least $450 and Filipino maids at least $500 a month, according to minimum wage requirements set by the workers' governments.

The e-mail also said that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss whether and how the foreign domestic worker levy can be further revised so that its objectives can be better met.

The Government has been making it easier for employers to hire maids in recent years by reducing levies and offering concessions to families who need them.

The last time levies were increased was in 1998, from $330 to $345. Since then, it has only fallen - to $295 in 2005, then $265 in 2007, where it remains today.

An MOM spokesman would not confirm that it may reduce the maid levy again.

She told The Straits Times that the ministry had announced earlier that it is reviewing the Employment Act as well as the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. The issues covered in the review include foreign domestic worker management.

"MOM is actively consulting stakeholders, and welcomes feedback on the proposed further changes to the Acts," said the spokesman.

ameltan@sph.com.sg