A step in the right direction.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) announced today that beginning 1 January 2023, all migrant domestic workers (MDW) must be given one rest day a month that cannot be compensated with cash.
Currently, they are entitled to a weekly day off, BUT they may work on their rest day – by choice or otherwise – if they are paid a day’s salary or given another day off in lieu.
Because of this ‘loophole’, there are probably many maids who work 24/7. My own helper has a few acquaintances who do not get any days off, mainly because there are elderly family members who need constant care.
Domestic workers, like any other worker (or human being, for that matter), deserve a day of rest every week at the very least. I find it sad that there is a need to mandate this.
While I acknowledge that there may be families with unique circumstances requiring extra support, there is surely a way to find alternative care options; if one is willing to make that effort.
The new rule is a positive development that will boost domestic workers’ well-being. One day out of 30 seems a measly figure.
But it’s better than zero.
Let Me Tell You About My Helper, Rose
Instead of going on about why we need to give our domestic workers the day off they deserve, I’d like to share my own experience with my former helper and what her weekly rest days meant to her.
Rose joined my family in 2009. She stayed with us for eight years, helping me raise four children – the younger two from when they were born.
Throughout the years she was with us, she got every Sunday off – no questions asked. My husband and I viewed it as sacred and never asked her to forego her leave.
Even when one or more of the kids were sick, and we needed help the most, we still urged her to go about her day if it was a Sunday. We had no other family in Singapore, so hubby and I just had to deal with it.
In return, Rose dedicated herself to us – she worked hard, she was trustworthy, she was loyal.
Knowing that she had to leave her own four kids behind in the Philippines to care for mine is a guilt that has always stayed with me.
Now that my kids are grown up, Rose has moved on to another family. So before writing this piece, I decided to give her a call and ask her how vital days off were to her.
“It really helps, especially since we are too far from our families. That’s the only time that we can talk to our friends about our emotions and anything about work.
“And that’s the only time I get to video-call my daughters. I was able to watch them grow up, even if I’m away,” Rose said.
I realised that for Rose, and I’m sure other domestic workers too, a rest day is not just a time to unwind from the stresses of the week. It can also be a lifeline that keeps them going.
If There’s a Will, There’s a Way
As I mentioned, there are always ways to find alternative care when your helper takes her rest day.
Perhaps someone from the family can relieve your MDW once a month. Or you can sacrifice your own free time to give your helper hers.
MOM has also suggested contacting the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) if you need support to care for an elderly loved one or checking out SG Enable’s first-stop resource portal, the Enabling Guide, for relevant information and resources on caring for a person with a disability.
You can refer to MOM’s guide developed to help employers and MDWs discuss and agree on how the mandatory rest day will be taken – whether as one full day, split into two half-days, or even on any other day aside from Sunday.
I think the key is to have an open discussion with your helper to arrive at an arrangement that works for everyone.
The new rule is indeed a step in the right direction. One that will allow us to move forward as a compassionate and caring society.