Sunday visitors in some malls, parks up as more maids get rest days

A crowd mostly having picnics in their own groups opposite Lucky Plaza at Tong Building on a recent Sunday. As more maids get days off, traditional hang-outs like Lucky Plaza and City Plaza are getting more crowded on Sundays. But some businesses say
A crowd mostly having picnics in their own groups opposite Lucky Plaza at Tong Building on a recent Sunday. As more maids get days off, traditional hang-outs like Lucky Plaza and City Plaza are getting more crowded on Sundays. But some businesses say this is not translating into higher returns. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Some malls and parks popular with domestic helpers are seeing increased traffic

Popular hang-outs for maids have become more crowded over the past year, as more domestic helpers get days off.

Maids and business owners told The Straits Times that Lucky Plaza and City Plaza are seeing more Sunday visitors in recent months, as are other open spaces.

"Last time, only the front of City Plaza was crowded; now, all the sides are too," said Ms Kuswati, an Indonesian maid who goes by only one name. She meets friends at the shopping mall in Paya Lebar on Sundays.

She has lived in Singapore since 2008 but started getting weekly rest days only after her contract was renewed this month.

A rule mandating one day off every week or payment in lieu kicked in a year ago and applies to all new and renewed maid contracts.

Ms Maricel Cabauatan, 31, said that the queues to remit money at Lucky Plaza have also become longer since the start of this year - from two or three hours, to four.

"It's very difficult to walk around," added the Filipino maid who has worked here for seven years. "If you stay there for the whole day, you will feel very tired."

Shop assistant Alvie Tagbar, who works at one of the many convenience stores in Lucky Plaza, said: "Sometimes when I don't have stock and need to go upstairs to get more, I have to squeeze past people."

As the crowds grow, other places like parks and beaches - where people can gather without spending money - are catching the overflow.

For example, more maids are heading to the Botanic Gardens for picnics and birthday parties. The Gardens' director Nigel Taylor said he noticed this trend picking up in the last two years.

"It's been happening on such a scale that the picnicking has overflowed onto the paths and occupies public buildings to the scale of excluding other people," he said.

To cope, the Botanic Gardens encourages maids to have picnics on the lawns. "When we tell them they shouldn't picnic exclusively in the shelter, they move, no argument," he added.

In Sentosa, the pleasure island's management said that the number of maids visiting Sentosa on Sundays "has been pretty consistent through the years", probably due to the opening of more spaces islandwide where they can enjoy themselves.

But the higher footfall is not translating into higher returns for some businesses.

At City Plaza, shipping service Valutaayu-Yan Cargo said that although there are more maids, they are also younger and do not have as many items to send home. Costlier rent and stiffer competition have eaten into sales, said Mrs Dhayalyn Koh, manager of convenience shop Negrosanon Trading, which has been at Lucky Plaza for 14 years.

In Peninsula Plaza, where betel nuts and Myanmar food attract maids and workers, traffic has actually waned in recent years.

Internet cafe owner Tang Kok Eng puts it down to the tightening of labour laws that has made it harder for workers to get work passes renewed.

"The levies are higher now," he said. "People also can get Internet on their phones so maybe they don't need to come here."

Shoppers like Ms Gladys Tan, 23, said the sea of people does not bother them. "They are usually outside the mall having picnics so it's quite a normal crowd inside," said the public servant, who visits a salon at City Plaza around once a month.

Some maids, like Ms Holymar Loremia, 40, choose to avoid the crowds altogether.

The Filipina, who has worked in Singapore for seven years, was at Gardens by the Bay on a recent Sunday having lunch with a friend.

"We prefer to come here because it's less crowded and more peaceful," she said.

joseow@sph.com.sg

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