SINGAPORE - Foreign domestic workers should still stay home on their rest days after the circuit breaker is expected to end on June 1, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Thursday (May 21).
They should also not meet up with friends or gather in public spaces during Phase One of Singapore's reopening of the economy, much like the rest of the community.
Detailing arrangements for maids during the Phase One period, which is expected to last at least a month from June 2, MOM said in a note to employers that domestic helpers can still go out to run essential errands and buy meals. However, they must return home immediately after that.
If a maid still wishes to go out for a limited time on her rest day, she should arrange with her employer to do so only on a weekday, wear a mask, follow all safe distancing measures, and activate the TraceTogether app to facilitate contact tracing.
"There should be no meeting up with friends or gathering in public spaces to minimise contact between different households. She should also inform you of her whereabouts," MOM told employers.
"You will be responsible in educating your foreign domestic worker on the above guidelines and requirements. Do discuss with (her) on whether she goes out on her rest day and come to a mutual agreement."
Helpers should still be given their weekly rest days, during which they should not be asked to work. Compensation must be given when they do.
On March 21, MOM advised maids to stay home and later said on March 25 that the authorities would step up inspections at Lucky Plaza, City Plaza and Peninsula Plaza where maids often congregate on their rest days to disperse large groups.
This was ahead of the Government advising the rest of the community to stay home, although safe distancing measures for the general population, such as the suspension of all gatherings with 250 or more participants, were in place at the time.
Tension has reportedly arisen between some employers and helpers who disagree on how the maids should spend their rest days, and non-governmental organisations have found instances where employers have either withheld helpers' salaries or threatened to cancel their work permits to force them to stay home.
The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics said it is difficult for maids to assert their rights to say no when employers request they work on their rest days for fear of displeasing their employers.
According to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (Fast), the number of cases of maids running away in the last two months has more than doubled from 13 in March to 29 in April.
MOM said on Thursday that employers should engage their foreign domestic workers and help them understand that the Phase One measures for them are "important and necessary adjustments" in the fight against Covid-19.
It also suggested employers teach maids about e-remittance so they can send money back to their families without having to go out, as well as allow them access to some meaningful online activities, noting that Fast is organising online classes for the workers.
"MOM will continue to conduct inspections on the ground. Foreign domestic workers who do not cooperate risk being fined and their work passes revoked," the ministry told employers.
"As we all adapt to the new normal, it is important to maintain open communication with your foreign domestic workers and provide them with the necessary support."