Forum: MOM needs to step in and set stricter rules for maid agents

Maids at an agency in Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

That the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is taking steps to reduce the proportion of employment contracts that are cancelled prematurely is encouraging (MOM to help employers retain maids for full length of contract, Oct 7).

Maid agency fees are expensive and yet many agencies do little to verify the credibility of a foreign domestic worker's background, capability and integrity.

Since the departure of our wonderful long-term helper of nine years, my family has had the most unpleasant experiences both with unscrupulous agencies and with unqualified, dishonest helpers over the past year.

The current process of interviews at agencies is most unsatisfactory. The employer has to sit in a cramped space, surrounded by helpers, and interview the shortlisted person with no privacy.

One has no way of assessing the skills the helper says she has, because many do not bring references and agents do not provide the phone numbers of past employers.

One also cannot do a test run, such as getting the helper to cook a meal or to do any of the things she says she can.

The agencies claim that they are not responsible for background checks or the integrity of the helper as they are just a conduit for a job match.

Often, when the helper starts work, one realises that she has marginal skills or that her claims were exaggerated and she really is not suitable. The employer is then either stuck with the sub-optimal choice or returns the helper to the agency.

In the case of our disappointing hires, we have never been provided with a suitable alternative choice of helper, nor were we ever returned the service fee. We have been stonewalled by an agency and even threatened with false allegations.

It is time that the MOM held agencies accountable for the competencies advertised of any helper. There needs to be better ownership of background checks and behaviour standards from agencies.

Employers recognise that they too must subscribe to high standards of respect and care towards their helper. However, the cards are currently stacked against employers at almost every step of the process and an employer has virtually no recourse when bullied by agents or let down by dishonest helpers.

This must be looked into by the MOM and the regulation on contracts must be changed.

This latest move to review the process is a very welcome step.

Priti Devi

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2019, with the headline Forum: MOM needs to step in and set stricter rules for maid agents. Subscribe