Singapore FDWs’ personal hygiene being dictated by employers – acceptable or unreasonable?

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Photo: Youtube screengrab

Filipina Foreign Domestic Worker (FDW) Paspe Jweliah posed a question to her fellow FDWs on Facebook page FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum) on whether personal hygiene habits can be dictated by employers. Her post sparked a lengthy and slightly sarcastic discussion in which FDWs shared their opinions on hygiene standards at work and whether or not employers have the right to tell them when and how often to shower.

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum) Facebook page aims “to discuss employment conditions, share information, exchange opinions and improve awareness” on the FDW position in Singapore.

In a post on the morning of September 25, Jweliah posed this question to her fellow FDWs:

“Morning members here, how much fussy is ur employer that she required u to shower 3 times a day?? And wat are the proper hygiene that they always ask u to do?”

The reactions from the other FDWs were  diverse.

Some agreed that being asked to shower multiple times a day is not unreasonable, especially when taking care of the elderly and the very young. It was also acknowledged that working with food and cleaning requires particular attention to hygiene:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Meanwhile, some FDWs say that they are sometimes asked by their employer to shower a staggering four times a day:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook
FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Others pointed out that the employer might be trying to send a message to Jweliah about her hygiene:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook
FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

This FDW added a little sarcastic humour to the thread of comments:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Several FDWs said that Jweliah should consider herself lucky to be allowed to shower more than once a day, as they are only allotted one shower time by their employers:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook
FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook
FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Someone else recommended that Jweliah confront her employer on the three-times-a-day shower requirement:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Another FDW is worried that employers might get upset over increased water bills from showering often:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Another FDW said that employers should abide by the same hygiene rules that they impose on their employees:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

Jweliah also shared a story told to her by a friend who is also a FDW:

FDW in Singapore (working conditions forum)/Facebook

From a more official standpoint, hygiene is only mentioned in this capacity in a guide to employing a foreign domestic worker published by the Ministry of Manpower:

“c) Hygiene – Ensure that your FDW understands your expectations of her, for example: • Hygiene in preparing food and drinks • Cleanliness at home • Tips to prevent the spread of common illnesses (for eg, a cold or flu).”

While it is perfectly reasonable for employers to require employees to stick to a certain hygiene standard in the workplace (especially when preparing food, handling children and the elderly and to stop spreading illnesses), some wondered where the line between being “fussy” and controlling fell.

Is it fair to demand that an employee shower multiple times a day just to please their employers before it crosses over into infringement of personal rights?

On the other side of the coin, can employers place an actual limit on the number of times in a day domestic helpers are “allowed” to take showers?

And while the cost of water may be a consideration, should employees not have equal rights to their employers when it comes to personal hygiene and being comfortable? Some argue that they should, since their jobs are rigorous and encompass many physical duties that require them to work hard and quickly.