CAN WE DO WITHOUT MAIDS?

The household: Cleaners, catering can help

Maids who are undergoing training, seen seated inside a maid agency at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre on Sept 10, 2014.
Maids who are undergoing training, seen seated inside a maid agency at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre on Sept 10, 2014. PHOTO: ST FILE

Apart from having them look after children and the elderly, Singapore families also rely on maids to keep their homes spick and span and to cook meals.

Even after the children have grown up or the elderly parents have died, many households still retain their maids.

How can they be weaned off the need for helpers, or at least make more efficient use of them?

ALTERNATIVE SERVICES

Using services like food catering and cleaning is one possibility.

Ms Angie Koh, director of Amahs On Wheels, a cleaning service that started in 1999, says: "There are many dual-income families with children who are grown up.

"Having a live-in helper does not really make sense for them. All they want is to come home to a clean house and ironed clothes, and we take care of that. We clean and we go."

There are more than 20 house-cleaning services in Singapore. Ms Koh's firm charges around $90 a cleaning session for a four-room flat in its once-a-week package.

More than 30 companies offer catered home meals. Most require customers to purchase daily meal packages for 10 to 20 days.

Food is delivered to their homes in tiffin carriers or plastic boxes.

Ms Agnes Tam, general manager of Hong Choo Catering Service, says: "Our service for meals at home has seen around a 50 per cent increase in demand compared with the last three or four years."

According to Ms Tam, many families use the service even though they have maids.

"The family can get tired of eating the same kind of food every day, or the food the helper cooks may not suit their taste," she says.

TECHNOLOGY

Today, many household items have also tapped technology to lessen the burden of housekeeping.

Take robotic vacuum cleaners.

With inbuilt sensors, these automatic cleaners navigate obstacles in the house while picking up dirt.

Smart refrigerators and ovens can remind owners to stock up on items, display recipes and tell them when the food is ready.

Pet owners can use automatic pet feeders, which allow their animals to take the right amount of food on time without human supervision.

RELAX MAID REGULATIONS?

Now, a maid can work only at the residential address stated in her work permit. She is not allowed to take on any part-time work.

But some employers argue that such a system is not an efficient use of manpower. Despite the penalties, a black market of moonlighting maids exists.

An educator in her 50s, who hires her sister's Indonesian maid to clean her house once a week for $40 to $50 each time, says: "Both my sister and I live with just our husbands as the kids have moved out.

"So her maid has a lot less to tidy up now, and fewer people to cook for. Plus she knows me, so why can't she help?

"I understand it's about protecting the helpers, but couldn't contracts be expanded to include multiple families?"

Royanne Ng and Rachel Au-Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 05, 2016, with the headline 'The household: Cleaners, catering can help'. Print Edition | Subscribe