Not to forget helpers

The Budget has brought good news for families with young children and elderly parents. The maid levy for them will be halved to $60 a month. The new foreign domestic worker levy concession is not only a generous advance on the last reduction but it also widens the range of beneficiaries by raising the age of the children in qualifying families. This tweaking of the levy targets benefits at households that need maids more, while holding on to the rationale of the levy itself, which is to control the overall number of foreign domestic workers here.

Maids do play a substantial role in taking care of dependants while husband and wife work to provide a higher standard of living for themselves and contribute to the total labour power of Singapore. In this sense, maids are foreign workers who contribute directly to the domestic economy. Given that the levy cut in the Budget will reduce the cost of having maids for a sizeable 144,500 households - a good number of which are well-off - this is an opportune time for employers to think about how a part of their savings could help these indispensable workers within their families. Helpers are a vulnerable group who are subject to high fees that maid agents collect from them - which can be as high as $4,000 and lead to the maids going without pay for eight months or more. Mercifully, there are groups looking after their interests, like the Association of Employment Agencies which is calling for a cap on the fees that local agents can collect. Employers should also do their part to assist, wherever possible.

Employers who can afford to do so may choose to give a portion of the savings of $720 a year to their helpers. This gesture of appreciation would reflect generosity encouraged by largesse of spirit, and would be a material way of saying to maids that Singaporeans value their contribution to the domestic health of the nation.