Four in 10 maids have to share their rooms, a survey by a migrant worker advocacy group has found, with a "surprising" number having to bunk in with men. And this is a situation that could leave them vulnerable.
While interviewing maids for a report on their living conditions, Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) found that about 40 per cent of them share a room.
The findings were based on responses from 429 maids. Of the 171 who shared rooms, 11 did so with males aged 12 to 19, and another 11 shared a room with an adult male.
TWC2 executive committee member and past president John Gee said the findings were surprising.
The group released advance results from the survey to The Straits Times on Thursday.
It's terribly unacceptable for a maid to share a room with a male, unless he is physically handicapped.
MAID AGENT KARL TAN, owner of Inter-Mares Management Services.
The results are drawn from interviews with 472 maids, conducted from June 2014 to last month, and will form a longer report that will be published later.
TWC2 treasurer Alex Au said maids could be sharing a room with male family members who are elderly or have disabilities, but "she should have a right to a place of her own".
He added: "If she is sharing a room with a male who is bigger and stronger than her, that makes her highly vulnerable."A Manpower Ministry spokesman, in response to queries, said maids should not be made to sleep in the same room as a man or male teenager to protect their modesty.
Employers who contravene this regulation can be fined up to $10,000 or face a jail term of up to a year or both. However, exceptions may be made if the adult male is elderly and disabled, and requires care, and the maid agrees to the arrangement.
The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) released a report last year, which found that about a quarter of the 670 maids surveyed shared a room.
In the past six months, the group said it has encountered at least four cases in which maids said they shared a room with a man.
Home executive director Jolovan Wham recounted a case in which a maid shared a bedroom and toilet with her employer's 18-year-old son.
She said she felt uncomfortable because she suspected he was behaving lewdly in the same room.
The Centre for Domestic Employees, which is run by the National Trades Union Congress, said it has not encountered such issues.
But its executive director of strategy, Mr Shamsul Kamar, said: "We would like to reiterate that it is the responsibility of the employers to provide acceptable accommodation that respects the privacy and modesty of foreign domestic workers."
Maid agents agreed. Mr Karl Tan, 77, owner of Inter-Mares Management Services, said: "It is terribly unacceptable for a maid to share a room with a male, unless he is physically handicapped."
A 40-year-old Indonesian maid, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times that she shares a room with her employer's 23-year-old son, who has intellectual disability.
The man cannot speak clearly and she once woke up to find him feverish and in need of a doctor.
"He is unable to tell us that he's in pain," she said. "If I am in the same room, I can keep an eye on him and alert his parents."
The maid added that she does not feel uncomfortable sharing a room with him. She has been working for the family of six, and living with them in their four-bedroom condominium unit, for about 16 years.
She said: "I've seen the boy grow up. I treat him the way I treat my own children."