Why It Matters

More clarity on maids' loans

Employers looking for domestic helpers now have a clearer idea of how much their Filipino maids need to borrow to cover the costs of preparing to work here, and how much they should spend each month repaying that loan.

Maids coming to Singapore from the Philippines should be using only up to half of their monthly salary to repay a loan of up to $1,100, which covers pre-employment expenses such as training and medical examinations.

These guidelines are part of a new cash advance scheme rolled out last week, to make costs more transparent for maids and employers. Previously, the fees a maid would have to bear could vary greatly, and even exceed $3,000. The new scheme is meant to allow maids to start sending money back to their families earlier, instead of spending several months with almost all their pay being deducted.

Although it is not an official government policy, the scheme has been agreed on by two major associations of employment agencies here and an association of recruitment agencies in the Philippines.

Enforcement may not be easy, since the loan is a private transaction. But agencies that have complaints against them for overcharging could be suspended from processing applications at the Philippine Overseas Labour Office, which supports the initiative. For the scheme to be effective, it is up to agencies in both countries and employers to do their part to uphold the agreement and not overcharge the women.

A related issue to resolve is how to protect employers and agents should a maid decide to terminate her contract before repaying the loan.

Finally, although Filipino domestic workers are becoming more informed about their rights, more can be done to educate potential workers about this new loan scheme, so they are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous recruiters. If the scheme is successful, it could be expanded to benefit maids from other countries as well, raising the profile of Singapore households as employers of choice.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2017, with the headline 'More clarity on maids' loans'. Print Edition | Subscribe