It is about time that the obvious was done. From Jan 1 next year, employers will no longer be allowed to safekeep money belonging to their maids, including paid salaries. To give the change legal clout, employers found guilty of keeping such money can face a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and 12 months' jail. The move by the Ministry of Manpower will protect both employers and foreign domestic workers (FDWs) from money-related disputes arising from an archaic practice that has no place in the labour relations of contemporary Singapore. Although the 600 complaints regarding salary issues received a year in the past three years involved a negligible number of FDWs, it is the principle that matters.
The principle is that maids are workers at home who should have control over their salaries, as do all other employees. Hardly anyone, including those who have maids, would justify employers in companies, offices and other workplaces holding on to their employees' salaries. Admittedly, the home environment differs from the commercial workplace because it is based on close proximity and everyday interactions with a family unit, which a maid has become a part of. In that spirit, it is possible that many maids themselves may have wanted their employers to keep their salaries. But employers are under no obligation to do so.