Some maids forced to work for free on days off amid phase 2 measures

Some domestic workers said it is difficult to get adequate rest at home, given that it doubles as their place of work. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - After stricter Covid-19 measures came into effect on May 16, Ms Luluk, an Indonesian domestic worker, was told by her employer to stay home on her days off amid the health risks posed by the recent surge in cases.

Although she is supposed to be paid if she works on her rest days, the 47-year-old, who declined to give her full name, said her employer had asked her to perform chores such as doing laundry and preparing meals without paying extra.

"I asked (my employer) if I could get paid for working on my day off, but she said no. My day off feels like any other work day," Ms Luluk said.

Domestic workers such as Ms Luluk have been urged by the Ministry of Manpower to stay home on their rest days during the phase two (heightened alert) period, which is in place till June 13.

However, if they agree to forgo their rest day, employers have to provide compensation in lieu, the ministry added in an advisory on May 21. Otherwise, they should not be assigned work.

But several domestic workers told to stay home on their rest days are still being asked to work for substantial periods without compensation, they told The Straits Times.

Some also say it is difficult to get adequate rest at home, as it is also their workplace.

Ms Annisa, 29, an Indonesian domestic worker who declined to give her full name, said she tried to rest in her room after doing about three to four hours of household chores on her day off.

"But the girl I'm looking after would still come into my room so many times, and I couldn't rest well," she said, adding that she is not compensated for her extra work.

When contacted, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) said it has yet to discern any trends about issues faced by domestic workers thus far.

But the non-governmental organisation's case manager Jaya Anil Kumar called for the rest day to be defined as a 24-hour period, to avoid a repeat of last year's situation during the circuit breaker, when Home saw a 25 per cent increase in the number of helpline calls from domestic workers asked to work on their rest days, among other things.

"This will entrench the idea that domestic workers who stay at home should not be given work and, if they do, they should be compensated accordingly," she said.

Mr Shamsul Kamar, executive director of the Centre for Domestic Employees, reminded employers of the need to respect domestic workers' rest days.

Ms K. Jayaprema, president of the Association of Employment Agencies Singapore, said there should be give and take between employers and domestic workers.

She noted that some employers are worried that their domestic workers may socialise in groups and crowd in areas like Lucky Plaza on their rest days.

"But if they need to run essential errands, they should be allowed to do so occasionally," she said.

"The question is whether it is really necessary for them to do so every week."

Sales manager Calvin Chew, 57, who hires two domestic workers to look after his mother and mother-in-law, said it is important to communicate with them to prevent any misunderstanding.

He added that both domestic workers are understanding of the need to stay home during this period.

They chose to forgo their rest day to work, and he has agreed to pay them in lieu.

"If they need to run essential errands like remitting money home, they can also do so on a weekday, when it is less crowded," he said.

"The objective of not going out on a weekend is to avoid getting into a risky situation if they loiter in crowded places."

Retiree Rebecca Yee, 63, said her Filipino domestic worker chose to work on her days off during this period for extra income.

"As employers, we also set an example by leaving the house only for essential errands," said Mrs Yee, who used to work in finance.

She has not left her house this week, except to go for a medical appointment.

"On Monday, I also gave my helper two months' worth of salary, so she can send two months' worth of allowance home in one trip to Lucky Plaza and doesn't have to make a second trip," she added.

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