Forum: Maids especially vulnerable to impact of overwork

I was happy to see the recently announced measures to support migrant domestic workers (MDWs), including enhanced health checks and a compulsory day off every month.

However, while these measures will certainly help identify cases of exploitation and abuse, I think the mental health and well-being of MDWs are still largely overlooked.

Since domestic workers are excluded from the Employment Act, they are also excluded from protections that many of us take for granted, such as maximum working hours and minimum rest hours.

This - on top of not being guaranteed full rest days - makes them especially vulnerable to the impact of overwork.

I am sure many of us would agree that working 12 hours a day is too much, but several studies have shown that many MDWs work well over 12 hours daily.

How can that be good for anyone's mental health?

A research report by the Association of Women for Action and Research and the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics last year and a 2015 study by Transient Workers Count Too show that many MDWs actually receive only a few hours off on rest days.

The report also highlights the "caregiver burden" that many MDWs face when performing eldercare for Singaporean families, largely stemming from overwork and lack of support.

Studies highlight the toll on MDWs' mental health exacted by poor working conditions, such as physical and verbal abuse, invasion of privacy and restrictions on communications.

We all deserve days off. I hope that beyond the one day off a month, it can be mandated that employers give MDWs no less than one full day (24 consecutive hours) of rest per week.

Furthermore, allowing domestic workers to live outside their employers' houses could help to regulate their working hours, reduce instances of abuse and let them forge friendships and communities outside of work.

Lastly, I strongly believe Singapore should ratify the International Labour Organisation's Domestic Workers Convention, to guarantee the overall well-being of our MDWs.

Kamalini Krishnamoorthy