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Why It Matters

Wanted: Clarity on a maid's job

In these times of great disruptions, the Government is exhorting workers to pick up multiple skills, and to be flexible and adaptable.

The same call, however, is misplaced if employers apply it to one particular group of workers - foreign maids.

An Indonesian maid pleaded guilty earlier this month to ill-treating a disabled four-year-old boy under her care. She had hurt him while trying to remove a suction cap that had fallen into his throat.

The case puts the spotlight on maids who are expected by their employers to go beyond regular household chores and perform myriad tasks that require some training, such as nursing or gardening.

Some of the more than 237,000 maids here have to shoulder their employers' misplaced expectations.

While they are here on work permits, they are not covered by the Employment Act - Singapore's main labour law - which spells out basic work conditions covering areas such as sick leave and overtime pay.

Ministry of Manpower rules state that maids "can only perform domestic chores", but it does not spell out what these chores are.

Maids here are mostly from rural backgrounds, with lower education, and the risks of them being exploited cannot be underestimated. It matters that their duties are set out clearly because their well-being is at stake.

Employers, too, can benefit from having the job scope set out clearly to prevent misunderstandings.

That said, there should not be a blanket "no" to duties beyond basic household chores. The circumstances and needs of each family are different.

What is important is that employers make it clear to the maids their duties from the start, and tell them when the scope changes.

The bottom line is that no maid should be forced to do something that she is either untrained to do or does not feel comfortable doing.

This is common sense and basic human decency.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'Wanted: Clarity on a maid's job'. Print Edition | Subscribe