A post urging employers to give 24 hour days off to domestic workers and not to interfere in their lifestyles, even if deemed objectionable led to a flurry of responses from some disturbed employers. Here are 15 of the most commonly cited reasons and our responses to them.
1) She will be too tired after such a long day off to work the next day
Haven’t we all felt tired after we returned from a holiday? Some of us even feel exhausted after a whole day or weekend of shopping! If our boss limited our day off for the same reason, we wouldn’t accept it. It is up to your domestic worker to plan how she spends her leisure time so that she is ready for work the next day. But we shouldn’t limit her day off just because we are afraid her work performance will suffer. As an employer, you have the right to express your concerns but not restrict her rights. If her performance continues to suffer because she does not have adequate rest due to poor use of her leisure time, and repeated warnings from you, you have the right to terminate her after giving sufficient notice.
2) We should not encourage undesirable lifestyles because they are not consistent with my family’s values.
We all have different values and lifestyles and this should be respected. As long as your domestic worker’s lifestyle does not break the law, or impinge on your family members, we should not interfere with how she wishes to spend her leisure time.
3) She needs to return home to do chores. Sometimes I also work on weekends, so why can’t she do the same?
We don’t agree that bosses should interfere with an employee’s weekends and leisure time too. However, a domestic worker, unlike an executive, does not earn as much, and probably does not enjoy the same types of work benefits. Even if she enjoys a weekly day off, she still has to work 6 days in the week and often 12 hours or more a day. She is also on 24 hour standby to perform any chores or care work which need to be done when she lives in your house.
4) I don’t trust her
When a company hires an employee, whether s/he is trustworthy or not is also not known. But we don’t deny them their days off.
5) The household is different to the office. You cannot compare. My family’s safety is paramount.
Basic labour standards should still apply. When you decide to hire a domestic worker, you have willingly turned it into a place of employment. This is the one of the consequences of hiring a live in domestic worker. But restricting someone’s freedom because of a possibility that s/he might harm you or your family is no reason to deny her a full day off. If you think about it, even without days off, your domestic worker could still harm your family. If you are really so afraid for your family’s safety, you might want to consider whether live in help is suitable for you.
5) She might get pregnant or HIV and I lose my $5000 security bond as a result.
We think this law is unreasonable and employers should not be made responsible for their employee’s pregnancy or sexual health. However, after years of advocacy and feedback from employers, the Ministry of Manpower has tweaked the bond conditions and it is less likely for them to forfeit it. There are also insurance schemes you can purchase where you pay only $250 in the event your bond is forfeited because of your worker’s “misconduct”.
6) She is here to work, not enjoy herself
We all want to lead fulfilling and enriching lives. If we believe in work-life balance for ourselves, why should domestic workers not expect the same?
7) I take her out with me on Sundays
We would not consider outings with our boss as rest or leisure time and therefore should not expect domestic workers to feel the same.
8) She signed a contract agreeing not to take days off.
Many domestic workers find it hard to reject contracts with no days off because of recruitment debts and pressure from agencies. They need a job badly and would agree to such conditions because they feel they have little choice. Is it right that we take advantage of her limited choices? If we won’t take a job which does not give us a weekend off, why do we expect the same of domestic workers?
9) If she is not happy she should go to another country. Nobody forced her to work here.
It is true that she was not “forced” to work here. But Singapore society has agreed that all employees, especially low wage employees should enjoy basic labour rights. A 24 hour day off is one of them. This is why we have the Employment Act. If there is societal consensus on this for all employees, why exclude domestic workers from it?
10) I treat her as part of the family.
It is good that you treat her as part of the family. But this doesn’t mean that she is also not a worker deserving of basic labour rights.
11) I cannot pay for her hospitalisation fees if she gets pregnant.
Having a baby and raising a child is a big decision any woman has to make and is usually not taken lightly. Just because she has a full day off does not mean that she will get pregnant, nor is there evidence that it would lead to a huge increase in the number of pregnant domestic workers who will give birth here. We believe that the current law which makes pregnancy for work permit holders an offence is wrong and should be repealed. If she is pregnant and gives birth in Singapore, we believe that the government should include hospitalisation costs for pregnancy as part of her insurance benefits.
12) Who will take care of the baby if she gives birth in Singapore?
We are not advocating for the child to be given Singapore citizenship. After birth, the domestic worker and her child should return to their country of origin.
13) If she goes on her day off, I won’t have a day off. Who will take care of my kid/ah ma/ah kong?
Your domestic worker already helps you look after your charges for the rest of the week. It is reasonable for you to spend time with your own family members and take care of them while she takes a break. If you really need help on her day off, you should consider child care centres, elderly day care centres and home nursing services.
14) I paid so much recruitment fees. If anything happens and I have to send her back, why should I pay for her ticket and my replacement maid?
Resignations, terminations and dismissals are common in any employment situation. Hiring and training any employee is a business cost which you should be prepared to bear if you wish to hire a live in domestic worker. Companies also spend valuable resources training their employees only to lose them when they decide to switch jobs. But as a society we don’t accept it when employers say they will deny their employees basic rights for fear that they have to bear the cost of someone leaving the company. If you are unhappy with the employment agency you engaged, you should take it up with them instead of denying workers their days off.
15) She will get into bad company, create trouble, or slacken in her work.
Having a regular day off is good for any employee’s mental health. A well rested worker is also a more motivated one.
If you are concerned about your domestic worker’s performance at work because of her day off, these are some things that you might want to keep in mind to allay your concerns:
1.Build trust through pro-active communication: It’s a good idea to have regular discussions with your domestic worker to find out if she has any worries that need to be addressed. You should also address your concerns to her honestly. This will ensure that any differences or difficulties that might arise are dealt with early before they escalate and lead to unpleasantness. Building trust and rapport with your domestic worker takes time and effort. Be patient and encourage her to talk with you. In any work environment, an employer who treats employees well enjoys a low turn-over rate and higher productivity.
2. Manage expectations: It is unrealistic to expect your domestic worker to be at her best all of the time. All employees have times when they feel lazy, unmotivated, or have difficulties coping with their work demands. Denying domestic workers their day off because of fear of ‘slackening’ or poor performance is a counter-productive way to deal with the problem. Rather, motivating her with incentives and rewards for good performance would be more useful (such as giving year-end bonuses, increasing allowances or giving shopping vouchers – not forgetting praise and thanks!)