SINGAPORE - More than 100 foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines are expected to arrive in Singapore in early August under a new pilot to bring in more maids amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The initiative has up to 2,000 potential employers expressing interest to hire helpers brought in under the scheme, said Ms K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore).
For a start, it will involve maids from Indonesia and the Philippines.
Employers will likely need to pay about $1,500 to $2,000 in additional fees to cover the cost of workers undergoing multiple Covid-19 tests and their 14-day stay at isolation facilities in their home countries before coming to Singapore.
Employers currently pay about $2,000 to $3,000 in agency fees to hire a maid from the Philippines or Indonesia.
The maids will also be subject to prevailing arrival measures, including a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN), Covid-19 testing protocols and safe management measures.
Close to 70 employment agencies are participating in the programme, which was announced on Wednesday. Ms Jayaprema said that more than 30 others are also likely to come on board.
"Many domestic workers are going home due to personal reasons and because of Covid-19, but the caregiving needs here are increasing... As an industry, we had to come up with a solution to reduce the tight constraints and massive shortage," Ms Jayaprema told The Straits Times.
The Manpower Ministry had announced on May 7 that all new entry approvals for work pass holders from countries with higher risk of Covid-19 will be halted. The arrival dates of some work pass holders who had received approval previously were also being rescheduled.
The higher-risk countries include Indonesia, the Philippines and Myanmar, all three of which provide the bulk of Singapore's domestic workers.
Ms Jayaprema said the pilot programme aims to help address concerns over safety, as it involves an intensive testing regime even before workers travel to Singapore.
The foreign domestic workers will need to take at least two polymerase chain reaction tests and three antigen rapid tests over a 14-day period at isolation facilities in their home countries.
The first batch of foreign domestic workers will on Friday check into a Manila hotel which has been approved by the authorities there as a dedicated isolation facility.
"The success of this pilot is very important. We hope to scale it up from here and to bring in a few hundred workers a month. And if it works well, then 1,000 a month, while working in accordance with quotas," said Ms Jayaprema.
Employers with levy concessions - granted to those who live with Singaporean young children, the elderly or people with disabilities - will be prioritised under the scheme.
"We believe these are the families who really need a helper and we want to ease their stress," she added.
Employment agencies participating in the pilot said they have seen strong interest from employers.
Madam Cecilia Leow, a director at The Branch Employment Agency, said: "Even though this process is a bit more expensive, employers at least have some leeway to bring in a helper for their home needs.
"They understand this is the only way at the moment for them to get a helper."
Mr Low Moon Heng, director of Passion Employment Agency, said: "A lot of employers have been renewing their current domestic helper's contract since last year, so there is a limited number of transfer helpers in the market."
The salaries of such helpers are now $800 to $1,000, up from $650 to $800 before the pandemic, which adds to employers' costs, added Mr Low.
Mr Brian Tan, director of Nation Human Resources, said the pilot programme will help to improve the supply of domestic helpers for households with critical caregiving needs while mitigating the risk of exposing Singapore to imported cases.
Workforce Manpower's director Michael Khan, however, said his company will not be joining the scheme, as he anticipates only a small number of helpers will be available. The agency has been focusing on transfer helpers since the pandemic struck.
Secretary Jaya Sree Rajendaran, 40, has been looking for a new helper since March but she is reluctant to hire one under the programme due to the extra costs involved.
"I have not been able to get a helper through an agency at a reasonable price because of the short supply. We badly need a helper to look after our children while we are working," said Ms Rajendaran, who has two children aged seven and 12.
She added: "If I'm going to have to pay that kind of money just to bring in one helper, it's going to be very tough for a middle-class family like mine."