The move to grade maid agencies before they are allowed to renew their licences is a concrete step towards raising service standards in a sector that has long been criticised for its shortcomings. Unsavoury practices included piling fees on maids and making employers give them hefty loans to pay these off. Agencies must shape up as they act as a crucial interface between foreign domestic workers and employers, each of whom must understand the other's culture, habits and needs.
The ability to match expectations is as important as the administrative role the agencies play in bringing the two sides together. That the grading will be carried out by the Consumers Association of Singapore and the Ministry of Manpower will help ensure more agencies abide by high professional standards of conduct.
The Trustmark scheme should help foster a more transparent and fair employment and recruitment culture. Equitable contracts, with obligations spelt out clearly, will help to prevent misunderstanding. And specifying the obligations of agencies when a working relationship turns rocky will help to ensure there is proper after-sales service. After all, that service impinges on the quality of life in the most intimate area of a Singaporean employer's life: home.
There is merit in the suggestion that maids be allowed to contribute their experiences to the grading process. That would ensure their legitimate interests are protected.
Singapore depends on a sufficient and stable supply of foreign domestic workers for the care of children with working parents and of the elderly. Sound practices here can help to draw more competent workers from the region.