The recent attention focusing on Singapore’s caregivers has led to a discussion on how the elderly in the country have been put at risk due to the hiring of untrained maids, caregivers, and foreign female domestic workers.
The said issue was broached as part of the government’s preparations for the Caregiver Support Action Plan, a new Home Caregiving Grant which will be introduced at the end of this year, replacing the Foreign Domestic Worker grant.
Hiring of maids not sustainable
In the discourse, Associate Professor of Economics at the Singapore University of Social Sciences Walter Theseira hinted to one latent issue – the sustainability of having maids perform care giving roles to the ageing population of Singapore.
According to Prof. Theseira, Singapore will have to recognise that having FDWs in many middle-class households is not sustainable.
“They come from poorer regional countries that are not going to be poorer forever. They’re rapidly developing their economies, and it will become less and less attractive for women from these countries to come here to work,” he said.
He warned that the cost of hiring them will also go up. “We should not encourage a situation in the long run where we continue to rely on this. Because it may not be available,” he said.
Another consequence of hiring maids as an ‘all-in-one’ solution is the crippling of the professional sector that provides similar services.
“In other countries, they have the same needs as us, but many of these needs are met by professional services like home nurses and eldercare facilities, and in Singapore we don’t have that kind of services sector because every household’s response is ‘I’m going to hire a maid’.” he said.
Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Department of Geography Elaine Ho, who is currently working on an academic research project about the care relations between foreign domestic workers and their elderly employers, expressed the same point of view.
Singapore could gradually become a less attractive working destination, Prof. Ho said.
Will Singaporeans survive without maids?
Maids have become central to the smooth-sailing management of most Singaporean family units. Among their many roles include the sending off and picking up of the children from school, accompanying elderly charges to the hospital, keeping homes clean, and cooking meals for the family.
For Singaporeans who work irregular hours, the maids’ presence at home is an advantage. And, of course, they are relatively more affordable to employ than getting specialised home and eldercare services.
A spokesman for a maid agency (Express Maid) once said, “The salary of our helpers starts from $500 a month. It’s slightly higher than a once-a-week cleaning package, but a live-in helper can do many other things, like take care of young children.”
“There are some who really need maids, especially those with sick, aged parents. But for the rest, it’s possible to do without them if you adjust expectations about neatness and work a little harder, like waking up early to make breakfast for the family,” says pastor Andy Goh, 40, a father of three.
The very nature of the relationship between maids and employers also has a different impact. This covers how families and other Singaporeans – who deal with maids in homes, at neighbourhood centres and parks, and on public transport – view and regard the countries which domestic helpers come from. Countries where Singapore gets its maids from include the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, as well as Indonesia.
Likewise, the attitude of Singaporeans towards these foreign nationals – including how such attitudes are perceived in the foreign capitals – have strong consequences on the formulation of national policies.
Myanmar, which has roughly 30,000 maids inside Singapore, has imposed prohibitions on its women preventing them from working as maids in SG and in Hong Kong, citing reasons such as ill-treatment and abuse that some of these workers have to go through. Previously, the Philippines also banned its citizens from being maids overseas, so has Indonesia.
With Singaporeans’ current dependence on maids and FWDs, can life continue without them?