Thinking of employing a foreign domestic worker? MH finds out what you need to know.
WORDS SUNUJA NAIDU
A working mum, Veronica Lee had initially engaged a babysitter to look after her two children as she wanted to ensure that they be raised with the right values. When her daughter was five and her son two, she and her husband moved house and they decided to send her children to childcare. Frazzled by having to cope with these changes, she made the choice of hiring a domestic helper to look after her children after they returned from childcare, prepare the meals and take care of the household chores.
Says Veronica, “It was a difficult decision to make. I was fearful as I had heard many stories from friends who had helpers about how they mistreated their young children. But at that point, I was very stressed and did not think I could manage without a domestic helper.” Despite her initial discomfort about having a stranger live with her family, Veronica who has had three helpers over a course of six years is thankful she went ahead as the helpers have lightened her domestic load considerably.
Similarly, Dina Lee, a mother of two young boys, hired a helper to ease her mother-in-law’s workload as she was not only taking care of Dina’s children but also her nephew.
According to the Ministry of Manpower, one in every six households in Singapore employs a foreign domestic worker. Many of these households engage a domestic helper to help with household chores and care for the young ones and elderly, enabling the lady of the house to continue with a fulltime job.
Making That Choice
Hiring a domestic helper is a heavy undertaking, so before going ahead with the process, do consider carefully why you need one. Among the factors to take into account are the costs of hiring one and the time required to get your helper up to speed with her duties.
A good way to find a maid is by word of mouth. Veronica, for example, relied on a recommendation from a good friend known for her meticulous requirements when it came to selecting helpers and agencies. Dina, on the other hand, initially visited a number of agencies personally to obtain her first and second maids, while for her third maid, she surfed a website to source for the maid’s biodata before visiting the agency to confirm the maid.
When scouting for an agency, make sure it is accredited by the Consumers’ Association of Singapore (CASE) or AEAS (Association of Employment Agencies). Advises maid portal good-maid.com.sg, “Choose a reliable and responsible maid agency, regardless of agency fee, as most fees are more or less the same.” Ask to interview the maid before hiring her either personally or via Skype rather than relying on her biodata as you can then have a better feel of the maid and also gauge her language competencies. Ask the training centre about her strengths and weaknesses.
When hiring a maid to look after young children, it is best to hire a maid in her thirties or forties as a certain level of maturity and patience helps in managing young children and crisis situations that may arise. Better yet, if she is a mother herself as she would then have some experience in handling young ones.
Determine the criteria that are important to you. According to good-maid.com.sg, the three most important criteria are being willing to learn and adapt quickly to a new environment, having basic personal hygiene and being healthy and energetic. In Dina’s case, she wanted a helper who was “not too young, liked children and was cheerful and reliable” while Veronica initially looked for a helper who had initiative, was helpful, cheerful, kind, hardworking, loved children and was respectful. After realising that her list was too exhaustive, she pared it down to make it more realistic. “My first priority is the ability to connect with children and take care of their meals and other needs,” she says.
Manage Your Expectations
Indeed, it is vital to have realistic expectations of your maid. As Veronica relates, “There is no perfect match, it is about managing your expectations. My first helper was from the city and wasn’t hardworking or proactive but she was very good with my two-year-old son as she too had a toddler. She took good care of the children when they were back from childcare and whenever I had to work overtime although I had to work with her on her attitude and other areas like cleaning the house and cooking.”
She adds, “Domestic helpers are just like us, they are not superwomen. Pace your helper, set the house rules clearly for them on the very first day they step into the house to avoid misunderstandings.” Suggests good-maid.com.sg, “Show her the things she needs to do, step by step. Give her a schedule and a to-do list. When she is familiar with her duties, expand her job scope.”
Setting the rules is vital as they define boundaries and lets the helper know what is expected of her and what disciplinary action will be taken should the rules be broken. In Veronica’s case, her maid was only allowed to use her handphone when she was not with the children. “If she was to use it when my son was in the shower, I warned her she would be sent back to the agency for training as it is not safe for a two-year-old to be alone in the shower while his caretaker is on the phone.” Other house rules included not allowing her friends into the house without the houseowner’s permission as to Veronica, this constitutes a breach of trust.
While managing your expectations, you must also respect the helper and have her welfare at heart. Veronica, for example, promised her helper a month’s bonus at the end of her two year contract and feels the incentive motivated her helper to work harder.
While respect is crucial, do not allow them to cross the boundaries. Says Veronica, “Some helpers may portray an attitude of superiority. This cannot be condoned. When my first helper occasionally did that, I would sit her down and tell her I didn’t like the way she spoke. I let her know that as an employee myself, I would not speak to my boss in that tone of voice. You need to put your foot down and address the issue right away.”
Says Dina, “Hiring a maid can be a hit and miss affair. Be patient. I close an eye when it comes to the cleanliness of the house and in the initial stages, I got my mother-in-law to watch over the maid which makes me feel safer.” Prioritising what is important to you and allowing for some give and take will help smooth things with your maid. When things go wrong and the maid does not work out, most agencies – depending on your contract – should be able to offer you a free replacement.
According to MOM’s criteria, domestic helpers must be at least 23 years old and have eight years of schooling. Log onto www.mom.gov.sg for details on hiring a foreign domestic helper.
As an employer, you are obligated to look after your domestic helper and provide for her food, lodging and medical expenses, exclusive of her salary. Ensure that she has a safe place to sleep and that she has adequate rest. All domestic workers who have had their Work Permits issued on or after 1 January 2013 are required to be given one day off a week.
Besides getting her the stipulated Personal Accident Insurance, consider including hospitalisation coverage.
Foreign domestic helpers are not allowed to work at a location different from what’s indicated on her Work Permit. Employers deploying their maids to work at their food stalls or shops have been fined for illegal deployment and had the security bond of $5,000 forfeited.