Employers must give maids one compulsory day off each month that cannot be compensated with cash under new rules that will take effect by the end of next year.
The Manpower Ministry (MOM) yesterday announced a raft of new measures to boost the welfare and safety of maids.
For instance, new maids will be interviewed twice in their first year of work by the Centre for Domestic Employees (CDE), and undergo checks by employment agencies after their placement.
The checks will seek to ensure that maids and their employers are settling well into a working relationship, and officers will offer support if needed. This will be done by the end of this year.
To facilitate the interviews, MOM will set up three neighbourhood centres in partnership with CDE, with the first centre set to open by the first quarter of next year.
Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang, in a Facebook post yesterday, said the compulsory medical examination for maids every six months will also be enhanced to pick up signs of abuse. Doctors will need to record the maid's body-mass index, and check for "signs of suspicious and unexplained injuries".
They will also need to submit these records to MOM for follow-up if necessary.
The changes will be implemented from the third quarter of this year, with the compulsory rest day rule kicking in next year to give employers time to adjust to the changes.
Ms Gan said: "Domestic workers support many of our families by helping with the household chores and caregiving duties.
"All of us can play a part in building a culture of respect and care for our domestic workers."
In April, MOM began house visits to check on the living and working conditions of the maids. The target number of visits was about 200 homes a month.
Mr Alex Au, vice-president of migrant workers' advocacy group TWC2, lauded the new rules and said they were a sign of progress.
However, he said more can be done.
For instance, six months may be too long to conduct an interview if the maid is a victim of abuse, said Mr Au, in response to queries from The Straits Times.
He said: "The first interview should be conducted within 30 days of the maid starting employment, followed by two more interviews in the year."
A Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) spokesman agreed.
She also said many maids who are victims of abuse do not have access to mobile phones.
She said: "We hope to see regulations, where domestic workers are guaranteed access to their mobile phones during meal times, rest times and after work hours, be implemented in due time."
The spokesman said Home hopes to see an increased frequency in mandatory rest days as well.
A 40-year-old Indonesian maid who wanted to be known only as Ms Sumini said she is pleased with the new measures.
She said: "If maids have bad employers, this makes it easier for the police to step in and help them."
Ms Ruth Tang, 44, a housewife whose family employs a maid, said: "If maids leave their place of work, form their own circle of friends and meet them regularly, it will enable them to have a healthier mental state and share their problems.
"It will certainly help to expose incidents of abuse and exploitation."
The new rules introduced by MOM come after a recent spate of high-profile cases of maid abuse.
In June, housewife Gaiyathiri Murugayan, 41, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for starving and torturing her Myanmar maid until she died.
- Additional reporting by Gabrielle Ng