Singapore's Happy Maids?
Image Credit: Peter Merholz

Singapore's Happy Maids?

 
 

A survey released this month by Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower suggested that most foreign domestic workers are happy and satisfied to work in the prosperous city state. The survey was undertaken by a private firm hired by the Ministry to conduct face-to-face interviews with 900 randomly selected foreign maids. The study also involved 450 employers.

Singapore has more than 200,000 foreign maids who came mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. According to the survey, 9 in 10 foreign maids said they were satisfied with working in Singapore, while 7 in 10 have expressed an interest in continuing to work in the city after their contracts expire. Almost 9 in 10 would like to continue working for their current employer. Meanwhile, 3 in 4 employers said they were satisfied with their current maids, and 6 in 10 intend to continue employing their current maids after their existing contracts expire.

The survey also revealed that the maids have sufficient food (99 percent) and adequate rest (97 percent) while slightly more than half of them (53 percent) said they were given at least one rest day per month. While it’s comforting to learn that the basic needs of most foreign maids are being addressed, it’s a little alarming that 47 percent of them weren’t being given a day off by their employers. Why has the Ministry failed to point to this finding as a serious issue of concern?

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As expected, 25 percent of the foreign maids cited homesickness as their main problem, while 16 percent of them said that they had initial difficulties communicating with Singaporeans, and 11 percent said they were unable to cope with their work. Curiously, 22 percent claimed they experienced no problems at all when they came to work in Singapore. It’s hard to believe that such a large number of maids didn’t encounter a single problem in their work. Meanwhile, the survey didn’t mention potential physical or other types of abuse.

Maybe one reason for the rosy assessment was a communication problem during the interviews, which prevented the maids from expressing their real feelings and thoughts. Were they interviewed in front of their employers? Were they informed that their answers would be kept confidential? Were they allowed to speak in their native language?

Even Singaporean writer Au Waipang questioned some of the ‘unreliable’ and ‘dishonest’ conclusions in the surveys. He found it incredible that more than half of the interviewed maids gave a perfect rating when asked about their work situation and welfare. He noted, for instance, that Singapore maids earn less compared with maids working in other rich countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Singapore government should obviously be commended for trying to probe the conditions of foreign maids working in the country – it’s a move that should be replicated by other rich nations, which are too focused in studying the situation of foreign employees and managers while ignoring the plight of foreign maids.

The survey confirms the perception that the welfare of most Singapore maids is protected by both the employers and the state. But the survey methodology also has flaws, which appear to have generated some unbelievable and maybe inaccurate results. The survey should inspire the government to continue formulating policies and programmes to help promote the work conditions of maids in Singapore since the ‘happy’ maids in the real world could simply be hiding their real dissatisfaction and loneliness.

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