Why It Matters

Let maids have a say too

Domestic workers waiting outside employment agencies at Far East Shopping Centre on April 4, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

Many families have cheered at the news that the 900 or so licensed maid agencies here will come under greater scrutiny.

A new rating system is being introduced to let employers give feedback on their services. Customer ratings for each agency will be listed on the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) website.

And by the end of next year, MOM and the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) will introduce a grading system which all maid agencies must comply with in order to renew their licences.

The Government has had to step in again, as the maid agency industry has struggled to fend off complaints of overcharging, a lack of transparency and, in general, poor service standards.

Despite past attempts by Case, the authorities and agents themselves to professionalise the industry through regulation and two accreditation schemes, it ranked seventh among the industries that Case received the most complaints against last year, up from 10th place in 2014. There were 914 complaints last year.

But the new grading system could drive up costs for employers. It is likely to hit smaller agencies hard, as they may not have the manpower needed to deliver training programmes for maids and handle thorough follow-up services after placement.

Meanwhile, larger agencies may see it as a chance to offer premium services for a heftier price.

Employers also have other options, such as a website that allows them to link up with maids on their own through a LinkedIn-style platform.

Glaringly absent from the discussion so far are the 227,100 or so maids here. The Straits Times understands that the Government may include helpers in its consultation on the grading criteria, but they will not be asked to rate their agencies.

As agents and activists have noted, these women are also paying customers of agencies. Their feedback matters. After all, Singapore is still trying to attract more maids to care for families here, and should ensure that the needs of both employers and helpers are looked after.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2016, with the headline 'Let maids have a say too'. Print Edition | Subscribe