New MOM rules make transfer of domestic helpers easier amid Covid-19 travel restrictions

Employment agencies will be able to help clients cancel their helper's work permit, even if she does not yet have a new employer. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Employers will soon be able to transfer domestic helpers more easily to other households if they no longer need their services.

This comes as nearly no new helpers are entering Singapore due to Covid-19 travel restrictions worldwide.

From Wednesday (May 20), employment agencies will be able to help clients cancel their helper's work permit, even if she does not yet have a new employer, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said in an alert to employment agencies on Friday (May 15).

Agents will then take over the management of the helper during the transition period before she finds work.

But they will have only the duration of her 14-day Special Pass - which will be issued when her work permit is cancelled - to find her a new employer, after which they must repatriate her if unsuccessful.

Currently, the original employer has to provide the new employer with a letter of consent for the new work permit application, and continue to pay for the helpers' upkeep during the transition period if she has been returned to the agency. The original employer also has to pay for the air ticket home after a helper's work permit is cancelled, if she is not moving to a new employer.

Employment agencies that want to take on the added responsibilities while facilitating the transfer of foreign domestic workers should register with MOM by May 31. They will be listed on the ministry's website.

In the e-mail alert seen by The Straits Times, MOM advised agencies to source for helpers who are already in Singapore and facilitate their transfers between employers, as worldwide travel restrictions due to Covid-19 have reduced the number of helpers entering the country.

MOM also said that during a helper's transition period in between employers, agents will be subject to additional licence conditions under the Employment Agencies Act.

They will have to provide acceptable accommodation, as well as upkeep and maintenance - which includes adequate food and medical treatment. They will also have to buy and maintain medical insurance coverage of at least $15,000 for the domestic helper, and pay for the helper's repatriation if a new employer is not found before her Special Pass expires.

Employment agents said the new rule incentivises employers to transfer their helpers instead of sending them home, as they can save on the air ticket while the agent now risks having to pay for this.

Ms K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies (Singapore), cautioned that agents may factor into their fees the higher costs of having to pay for the upkeep of the helpers and their flight home if they cannot find a new employer.

"Employers should also be aware that entry approvals for new helpers are not coming through and it will probably be hard to find a replacement," she said.

Employers can already transfer helpers under the existing rules, she added. The association set up a transfer portal last month to help match domestic workers and potential employers. About 20 agencies and 1,000 employers have signed up.

Singapore Accredited Employment Agencies Association president Brian Tan said that the new policy aims to keep helpers in Singapore as supply from overseas has stopped. But it assumes domestic helpers want a transfer and are able to find a better opportunity for themselves, when they may actually prefer to return to their families due to the uncertainties of the Covid-19 period, he said.

"If it is a supply issue, then the focus should be on how to find a safe and low risk way to start bringing new domestic workers into Singapore," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.