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Domestic helpers in Singapore make up almost a fifth of the foreign workforce

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The terms and conditions of domestic helpers in Singapore. The rules MOM says that employers and helpers must follow.

Domestic helpers in Singapore are increasing in numbers. They make up almost a fifth of the foreign workforce in Singapore.

There were 258,500 migrant domestic workers in Singapore at the end of December 2022 when the foreign workforce totalled 1,424,200, according to the Ministry of Manpower. In other words, every fifth foreign worker was a domestic helper in Singapore as they made up 18.8 per cent of the foreign workforce.

Singapore's foreign workforce in December 2022
Singapore’s foreign workforce in December 2022. (Ministry of Manpower data)

The number of domestic helpers in Singapore has gone up after Covid-19. Their current population is even bigger than in 2019 when there were 261,800 such helpers.

Only the 415,000 semiskilled workers in the construction, manufacturing, marine shipyard, process and services sectors outnumbered them as a group. Both the domestic and the semiskilled workers are work permit holders.

S Pass holders – skilled workers earning at least $3,000 a month – totalled 177,900, while Employment Pass holders – professionals, managers and executives earning at least $5,000 a month – numbered 187,300.

No minimum wages for domestic helpers in Singapore

However, there is no minimum salary for work permit holders. 

So there are no minimum wages for domestic helpers in Singapore.

Nevertheless, one maid agency in 2022 suggested these salary guidelines for 

  • Indonesian helpers: $550-$580 (if new in Singapore);  $550-$650 (if worked before in Singapore)
  • Myanmar helpers: $450-500 (if new in Singapore);  $550-$650 (if worked before in Singapore)
  • Filipino helpers: $580-$600 (if new in Singapore);  $650-$850 (if worked before in Singapore)

Who are the women who can be domestic helpers in Singapore?

Under the rules, migrant domestic workers must be:

  • Female
  • Aged 23 to below 50 during the work permit application (helpers aged 50 and above can only renew their work permits until they are 60 years old)
  •  From an approved source country or region, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Thailand
  • Have at least eight years of formal education.

The migrant domestic worker’s work permit is valid for up to two years but is renewable.

Growing number of domestic helpers in Singapore
Growing number of domestic helpers in Singapore. Their numbers have gone up after Covid-19, exceeding even their total figure in 2019. (Ministry of Manpower data.)

Who can employ domestic helpers in Singapore?

Employers must be at least 21 years old, able to understand and discharge their responsibilities as employers, and not undischarged bankrupts.

The cost of employing domestic helpers in Singapore

Employers must buy a $5,000 security bond for each helper as well as medical and personal accident insurance.

The employer will be discharged from the security bond liability only if he or she:

  • Cancels the work permit
  • Has not breached the security bond conditions
  • And the helper has returned home.

The medical insurance cover for domestic helpers will increase from at least $15,000 a year for in-patient care and day surgery during the helper’s stay in Singapore to $60,000 a year for policies with a start date effective from 1 July 2023. 

The helpers must be sent for medical screening every six months to check for pregnancy and infectious diseases such as syphilis, HIV and tuberculosis. However, helpers aged 50 or more need not go for the half-yearly screening. 

Foreign worker levy and concessions available

Employers also have to pay a foreign worker levy for domestic helpers in Singapore.

The normal levy rate is $300 a month for the first helper and $450 a month for the subsequent rate.

But there is a concessionary levy rate of $60 a month. This is for families with young children, elderly members or persons with disability.

Employers must pay their helpers’ airfare to return home when their employment ends.

Employers urged to sign employment contracts

MOM advises potential employers:

“MDWs (migrant domestic workers) are not covered by the Employment Act because it is not practical to regulate specific aspects of domestic work, such as hours of work and work on public holidays.

“However, we encourage you to sign an employment contract with your MDW to avoid disputes.

“You and your MDW must also sign a safety agreement before she starts working for you.”

MOM must be notified before the helper works in a second home

Employers must notify MOM before needing their helpers to take care of their children or parents at a relative’s house.

Rest day for domestic helpers

Domestic helpers in Singapore are entitled to one rest day per week. The employer and the helper must agree which day of the week should be the rest day.

From 1 January 2023, all employers must ensure their helpers have at least one rest day each month that cannot be compensated away.

If the helper agrees to work on the remaining rest days in the month, the employer must compensate her with either at least one day’s salary or a replacement rest day taken within the same month.

Domestic helpers in Singapore did not have a weekly rest day till 2013. Before that, they were allowed only one day off a month, reported the BBC in September 2013.

Employers are advised by MOM to try to settle disputes with their helpers. “Even if there is suspicion that she might have committed a misdeed, you must not take matters into your own hands by punishing her. You must report any criminal matters to the authorities,” says MOM.

Employers who change helpers multiple times within a year have to meet certain conditions before they can employ another helper. Anyone employing a fourth helper within a year has to attend a classroom Employers’ Orientation Programme or attend an interview with MOM.

People can be debarred from employing helpers if they exploit or ill-treat them, for example, by withholding their salary, depriving them of food and rest, and making them do tasks that are unsafe or unhealthy.

What MOM says about food and accommodation for helpers

MOM advises potential employers:

“You must ensure that your MDW’s accommodation meets the following requirements.

Adequate shelter: the accommodation must adequately protect your MDW from environmental elements such as sun, rain or strong winds.

Basic amenities: you must minimally provide your MDW with a mattress, pillow, blanket, bathroom amenities and toiletries. Examples of toiletries include soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.

Sufficient ventilation: your MDW’s accommodation must be sufficiently ventilated. Mechanical ventilation (e.g. electrical fan) must be provided if natural ventilation is inadequate.

Safety: your MDW must not sleep near any dangerous equipment or structure that could potentially cause harm or hurt to her.

Modesty: your MDW must not sleep in the same room as a male adult or teenager. If you install video recording devices at home, you must inform your MDW of the devices and where they are placed. You must not install them in areas that will compromise her privacy or modesty, e.g. where she sleeps, change clothes, or the bathroom area.

Space and privacy: you should provide your MDW with a separate room. If that is not possible, you must ensure that her accommodation has adequate space and privacy.

Adequate food

“You must provide your MDW with 3 meals a day.

“An example of a day’s food intake for a female engaged in moderate activity is as follows:

Breakfast: 4 slices of bread with spread.

Lunch: 1 bowl of rice + three-quarter cup of cooked vegetables + palm-sized amount of meat (fish/poultry/beef/lamb) + fruit

Dinner: 1 bowl of rice + three-quarter cup of cooked vegetables + palm-sized amount of meat (fish/poultry/beef/lamb) + fruit

“Be sensitive to your MDW’s needs when it comes to food. Do not force your MDW to eat food that she is not supposed to or is not comfortable with. For example, your MDW may not be able to eat certain food due to her religious beliefs, or she may not be accustomed to your family’s dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian food or porridge).”

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