Maids' pay rise in Singapore: Boon or bane?

SINGAPORE - The Indonesian Embassy has told agents that from 2016, new contracts for maids from its country should include a monthly salary of at least $550, up from the current $500.

While the move may appear to be a boon for Indonesian maids, more could end up struggling to find jobs if employers turn to cheaper options from Myanmar, for instance.

With the change, the minimum wage for Indonesian maids will be closer to the minimum monthly pay of US$400 (S$570) mandated for Filipino maids by their government.

There are around 125,000 Indonesian maids in Singapore, and about 70,000 maids from the Philippines.

These make up the lion's share of the more than 227,000 domestic helpers here, with others coming from countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

The pay rise could also see the booming maid transfer business, which works with helpers already working in Singapore, get even bigger.

If employers have to pay $550 a month for a new maid, they may think it more worth their while to hire someone who is already trained and familiar with local culture.

Still, employers may lose out if the new pay rise leads to a price war - with governments of various countries setting increasingly higher standards of pay for their nationals. The Philippines government, however, has not increased its stipulated minimum monthly salary for maids for more than a decade.

In the end, it comes down to supply and demand. Unless there are more Singaporeans stepping up to the roles of caregivers and housekeepers, foreign domestic helpers may continue to command better wages.

And why not? They still earn less than most Singaporean low-wage workers.

There is something to be said for changes that make for a more equitable society.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Maids' pay rise boon or bane?'. Print Edition | Subscribe