Plan for more male helpers in Singapore hits snag

Burmese care-giver Laminn Koko, 24 (left), helps Mr John Ashworth, 81, with his afternoon snack. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Burmese care-giver Laminn Koko, 24 (left), helps Mr John Ashworth, 81, with his afternoon snack. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

A push by a local maid agency to bring in more male helpers to Singapore has hit a snag because it has been found to be "not practical".

Homekeeper, which last year announced plans to bring in up to 100 male "maids", has decided there is not enough interest after bringing in 10 from Myanmar.

Issues include the longer time it takes for a male helper's work permit to be approved, the fact that he cannot be transferred to another family and families' reservations regarding living arrangements.

"If there are women living in the house, families are not comfortable with a male helper also staying under the same roof," said Homekeeper general manager Mark Chin.

The role of live-in male helpers is to take care of elderly men, who might be too heavy for female maids to lift. They are paid around $600 a month, compared with around $2,000 for a male nurse.

A Manpower Ministry (MOM) spokesman said there are around 30 male helpers here, and applications to bring them in are "very rare" and allowed only in "exceptional situations". There are more than 200,000 female maids here.

Last year, Homekeeper decided to bring in more male helpers after saying there was a strong demand for them to take care of elderly men who may be bedridden, given the ageing population. But it found that getting approval for a helper would take one to three months.

Families who wanted a male helper were willing to wait in the beginning, but as their needs grew more urgent, they became more impatient, Mr Chin said. Sometimes, prospective employers had to seek the help of their Members of Parliament to try to get the applications approved, he added. But this is only part of the problem.

One 32-year-old male helper from Myanmar decided to return home after four months because the job was not what he had ex-pected. He thought he would only be taking care of the elderly man he was attached to, but he was asked to do housework as well.

He could not be transferred to another family because MOM approves work permits for male helpers only on a case-by-case basis.

Homekeeper chose to bear the return expenses for the male helpers who wanted or needed to be repatriated. Out of the 10 male helpers the firm brought in, six have left.

The owner of employment agency JRS Business Express, who did not want to be named, said she has brought in one or two male helpers, adding that the application process is "quite tough".

As for families who hope to hire male helpers, Mr Chin said his firm will still bring them in, but on an ad-hoc basis.

jalmsab@sph.com.sg