Shocking that maids have no days off: Human Rights Watch

23 Feb 06

An international human rights watchdog on Friday pressed Singapore to give foreign maids mandatory days off, saying they deserved the same holiday entitlement as the city-state’s other workers.

“It’s shocking that an advanced economy like Singapore’s does not guarantee domestic workers a weekly day off,” said Nisha Varia of Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division.

“Domestics should enjoy the same rights as other Singaporean workers, including a day off, limits on their working hours and caps on salary deductions,” she said.

Singapore in March ruled out giving foreign maids mandatory days off, saying it would be inconvenient.

Human Rights Watch said a new contract for domestic workers clarified some issues for employers but did not guarantee a weekly day off for foreign maids or cap excessive recruitment fees.

The contract, to be implemented from September 15, specifies that maids are entitled to between one and four days off per month or cash compensation in lieu, and requires employers to provide three adequate meals a day.

Human Rights Watch said the holiday provision was open to a high risk of abuse “by employers who do not provide the additional payment or who coerce the worker to sign away her right to a day of rest.”

The Association of Employment Agencies and Casetrust, the two bodies which accredit maid agencies, said in a statement that the new contract “is designed to help smooth employer-employee relationships from the onset, by minimizing any ambiguities on employment terms.”

Hawazi Daipi, senior parliamentary secretary to the manpower ministry, has previously said the ministry agrees all workers should receive adequate rest and that employers who do not provide it can be punished.

Violators can be fined up to five thousand Singapore dollars (3,150 US dollars) and jailed for up to six months.

About 150,000 women work as maids in Singapore, most of them from impoverished villages in the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Their counterparts in Hong Kong, where an even larger number of maids work, are granted one day off every week and a day off on public holidays.

In a 2005 report, Human Rights Watch said maids in Singapore were abused physical and verbally, and overworked. Singapore’s ministry of manpower called the report a gross exaggeration.

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