Singapore was among 63 voters which abstained from voting on the new International Labour Organisation convention in Geneva from granting domestic workers greater protection from exploitation.
Yet Madam Halimah Yacob, the Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports said Singapore should consider legislation that makes employers give their domestic helpers a weekly rest day.
She said giving maids their weekly offdays might help to minimise stress and overwork issues.
They are just like other workers who need to rest, should not be made to work excessive hours that could affect their health and well-being.
Madam Halimah expressed hope that Singapore would 'take stock of its laws and policies and progressively make changes' to be in line with the convention since the country takes its international obligations seriously.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in the meantime, is reviewing the call for the government to implement a weekly rest day as MOM recognises the benefits of rest days to the well-being and productivity of foreign domestic maids.
It will consult with various stakeholders including employers, employment agencies and non-governmental organisations.
Members of the public are advised to email their views and suggestions to email@example.com.
MOM would continue to review the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers, and would sign the new treaty when it was sure it could implement it here.
Should the suggestion turn into law?
Then it becomes one size law fits all employers' policies.
Imagine getting paid at least six times higher than back home...
Free lodging, amenities, food, toiletries ...
Free compulsory six-monthly medical check up...
Free return home with air ticket paid for...
Can't imagine what's the next best thing in life beside free...
Although it cannot be denied that some of these maids were abused and some tend to overwork, but not all of them are squeezed dry of their energy.
While their government impose all kinds of rule for their 'daughters' welfare working abroad, but bear in mind, we also travel to their country, went to their households to see first hand, how their 'daughters' in their own country are usually the lesser mortal.
Those with domestic helpers in their house, should know why.
Those with helpers for many years, know it best.
Although some Indonesian house-helpers have no off day, their nationality are all over the island.
They will often meet and get together with other domestic workers while sending and fetching their employers' children to schools.
I had once came across newspaper article, reminding these domestic helpers, not to take up the whole area of available spot at mosques while waiting for their employers' kids in kindergartens.
That shows their big presence.
Once, a six-year old came up to Me, saying he was absent from class the day before, because his father suddenly wanted to return home.
Upon opening the front door, the maid was asked to put on her clothing in her room, while the Bangladeshi man, who was then doing the painting job at his block, remained at the hall.
The boy claimed he could see the Bangladeshi's legs...
My friend had a hard time telling her maid not to feed her baby, of all place, at the bus-stop.
My friend was not too sure what the maid was up to, but given her friendly nature...
Some employers always want to be different from the rest.
They often feel sorry for their maids' living condition back home.
Thus they wanted to provide the best for their employees.
But it is not few employers that their trust were betrayed, their sympathy exploited.
Especially when these maids are provided with handphones, and they are unable to self control of using and abusing it.
The phone is a great distraction.
And even without off days, these maids can still managed to get boyfriends.
A brother had no other choice except to get a helper when his wife met an accident.
The helper's main duty was to look after their six children, especially the youngest, who was less than two years old then.
The helper, married with children, claimed did no know how to cook despite being married with children in Indonesia, and in her late 30s.
The brother cooked whatever he could for his family.
But there was once, when he was in a hurry to go to work, that he just put aside the ingredients for the helper to fry rice.
He did not believe his wife when told that the garlic and onion used was not peeled off the skin...
Luckily he believed his own eyes and ears when at his in-laws' place, the maid went downstairs to make a phone call to his wife's younger brother, wanting to know the young man better...
Suri* was given the choice of enjoying her once a month off day outside home, or be paid to stay home during her off day.
She chose the latter.
But in the end, she get to go out every weekends for the whole day attending classes in Orchard Road.
Every Ramadhan, she went to the mosque alone nightly for her terawih.
She had travelled to many states in Malaysia.
She had been to Batam, China and Thailand.
And, she is one of the 88% Indonesian domestic helpers who do not enjoy their off days.
She did not care.
She could not be bothered too.
Not all employers are without sympathy.
And employers who trust their maids, they can make a wise decision concerning off days.
But to make compulsory and lawful weekend offdays, the government is waging more social ills in our already colourful society.
A survey by non-governmental organisations here has found that few Indonesian maids get days off, with only 38 per cent having at least one day off a month. This is in contrast to 85 per cent of Filipino maids getting at least one day off a month. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF MUNIFAHThose employers who had experience enough nonsense brought by their one after another problematic maids would definitely choose to OFF the OFF day.
The risk is simply too high.
Most employers treat their maids well.
Despite that, give these workers an inch, they expect a foot.
Before long, they jolly well demand a yard.
An acquaintance's Indonesian maid was given once a month off day, just like her friends from her home village.
But there was once, she was requested not to take or to postpone her off day, as it was the first day of Hari Raya.
Better for her celebrating the festival with the family and usually, she will receive packets of monies from relatives.
But the maid, in her 30s, with children back home, insisted as she had planned a picnic at Sentosa.
If all her friends can have their off day, why not her?
But all her friends were working for Chinese families.
After all, it was not appropriate to celebrated the first day of Hari Raya at the beach.
A just arrived maid is given her off day in her first week.
She goes out looking for friends...
Big groups of migrant workers, men and women gathering at shopping centres on weekends, the government must really think of the social impact and its consequences.
Just walk down Peninsula Plaza in North Bridge Road, a favourite spot for Myanmar, Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road for Filipinos, the Little Thailand Golden Mile Complex at Beach Road, Katong Shopping Centre at Mountbatten Road for Chinese national and City Plaza at Geylang.
All these foreign workers just know where is the next best spot to spend in Singapore beside working place.
I was once asked by a Batam friend to find her niece living in Lampung, on the southern tip of Sumatra that borders Bengkulu, who had worked in Singapore for four years.
She called her mother staying in their village, informing her she worked in Bukit Merah.
My Batam friend believed her niece was being abused and tortured as that was the only upon arrival call she ever made.
She insisted since we are the best of friend, sure I will 'save' her niece by knocking at every doors at all the blocks of flats in Bukit Merah.
To show her that indeed we are the best of friend, her persistent request led Me to bring her here to see things with her own eyes, as did not believe that Singapore law is always pro-maids rather than their employers.
Media reports on Indonesian maids are quick to report about abuse, violence and death.
So stories of these girls and women of not only meeting friends, but boyfriends, are but all sounds alien and great distant away from her.
Singaporean females to her, are all bossy, fierce lots and proud of themselves, including Myself.
We are just too proud being Singaporeans.
That's the reason to her, why there are many Singapore men buying terrace houses around her residence, staying with their young Indonesian wives.
Yes, I used to see households in her neighbourhood was usually void of men on weekdays.
Not only daytime, but nighttime too.
But come weekends, Singaporean husbands aplenty in her neighbourhood.
She even encouraged Me to get a house opposite hers, since we are the best of friend...
I fetched her from Batam to go to Bukit Merah on one Sunday last year.
We went to a playground.
She was taken for an initial shock seeing all maids with handphones gathering together while waiting for children at play.
A number of them were with fast texting fingers and some with ear pieces.
She went to them asking for her niece but nobody ever heard her name before.
She asked them if was possible for her to find her niece in one of the households.
One of them said, she must be out of her mind - Walking a block of flat is like walking around a whole village in Indonesia.
She was asked to count how many blocks were, just in front of her...
We then took a taxi to City Plaza, a hotspot for Indonesians, since about five years ago.
I requested the driver to drive slowly, and to make double turning around the shopping centre.
City Plaza was like a shopping centre in Jakarta to my friend.
These mostly domestic helpers, supposed to be simple-minded, many were all dolled-up, with make-up, and many were with revealing clothing with jewellery.
She realised, these Indonesians are not up to innocently nothing with their what she think of them, being simple- minded.
They were transformers.
They went all out for their elaborate physical transformation.
Most sit on the steps or grass patches outside the mall to chat or having a picnic with their friends and male Bangladeshi construction workers.
She was told, male workers from Indonesia, Myanmar, and Sabah frequent the place too.
Their public behaviour awed my Batam friend and left her speechless.
She went up to few maids who were standing around in the nearby shopping place, Tanjong Katong Complex.
She asked them of their feelings after leaving families behind.
Many answered, although they missed them, but there was not much they can do.
They have to stay focus in their job, and own families back home could not swayed their minds.
Some preferred not to return home even after their three to seven years in Singapore.
Some even claimed families had faded in their memories.
Some sent home part of their salary, and a few she talked to, had broken their links.
We then walked pass Lion City Hotel.
I told my Batam friend, it was at the traffic light in front of the hotel that when I was waiting for the green man to cross the road, I saw an Indonesian woman crossing the road from Tanjong Katong Complex, outstretched her right hand to shake hand an old man directly in front of Me.
The man was shocked when the woman's left hand went behind his waist, holding him tight.
I stopped Myself from crossing the road, to see what she will do to the man.
He was then led to a bench in front of Lion City Hotel where the woman talked softly into his ears, and he kept nodding his head, with her left hand remained tightly behind the man's waist...
We then walked in front of the Haig Road Hawker Centre.
Although social divider with locals is strictly enforced by the law, forbidding foreign maids from marrying Singaporeans, we saw many old Malay men, chico pek men with Indonesians...
These Indonesians did stand out, their facial features and dressing gave way from local residents.
Just too bad that Haig Road lies between Joo Chiat and Geylang.
Haig Road has been attracting seedy characters for quite some time.
Bad influence had crept in.
The housing estate has earned a reputation among foreigners too.
There is the open display of affection showing how bold these women can be.
Sometimes, residents can even catch occasional illicit, passionate moments in full view...
Just walk across behind it, Joo Chiat, many Indonesians were standing around the hotel wall although solicitors for prostitution can be fined up to S$1,000 or jailed up to six months.
They enticed local men and... youths.
Now, some refers it as ‘Little Batam’.
The nearby Joo Chiat Complex, especially the nearby eating place behind it, is a favorite spot for old, old local men and their young foreign partners.
I used to pass there, never fail to purposely staring at these old, old men with their odd partners.
These old, old men did not mind letting these as young as their daughters and granddaughters to sit on their lap...
The seeing is believing, been there, seen up close of not all maids in Singapore are facing what's printed in papers, led to many more trip of My Batam friend to Singapore.
And she kept exploring Geylang and its neighbourhood.
She knew now, being housemaids in Singapore is not about working 24/7.
She knew now, maids have had their own lifestyle to maintain.
She get to know of married maids having relationship with Bangladeshi workers.
She get to know maids from her own country having affairs with multiple Singaporean partners who could support them, providing them cash, topping-up their phonecards...
Then, one day, My good Batam friend said she wanted to become a study mama.
She wanted her eldest daughter to study here.
I reminded her sternly, since we are the best friend, she is not allowed to appear at any of My Siblings' doors should one day, she truly become a study mama...
Yes, Singaporean females are all bossy, fierce lots and proud of themselves, including Myself.
We are just too proud being Singaporeans...
The best of friend indeed...