Counselling might help maids, families in a soured relationship

I applaud the proposal by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to set up a grading system for assessing maid agencies in Singapore ("Maid agencies to be graded by Case and MOM"; March 10).

I appeal to them to also establish better safeguards for maids who have just arrived here. In a situation in which a maid-employer relationship does not work smoothly, the maid has little access to real help here.

I have seen at least four cases in recent weeks where this has happened.

In each case, the maid was very unhappy, often because more family members, who needed special care, arrived to live in the same premises. The maid managed to find a new employer and was ready to complete her contract with the earlier employer, but not renew the contract.

But the employers held a trump card over her, refusing to give her a release letter, insisting that they would send her back to her home country. This frightens most maids, as it poses the risk that they cannot return to Singapore and, even if they do, they need to incur huge costs once again to come back here.

To mitigate this problem, I suggest that MOM sets up counselling sessions for the maids and families caught in such a situation.

If, in spite of such intervention, the maid wants to change her employer and has found one willing to hire her, the current one should be asked to give her a release letter, to enable her to move to another family locally.

Apart from being the right thing to do, it would bring greater balance to the present very unequal situation, which favours employers greatly over maids.

Tara Dhar Hasnain (Ms)