John Gee responded to a letter in the October 4, 2011 edition of the Straits Times:

Dear ST,

Madam Chua Lai Keow certainly had a bad experience with her domestic worker who became pregnant, but this should not be seen as a reason for denying domestic workers days off when they can go out.

Many teenagers go out and have boyfriends and girlfriends; if a recent survey is accurate, many also have sexual relations and 80 per cent don’t use contraception, but who seriously suggests that they should all be shut up at home 365 days a year in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies? In fact, around half the domestic workers employed in Singapore already have at least one day off each month and 12 per cent have weekly days off, but the percentage who become pregnant is tiny. To confine 100,000 women to employers’ homes on the basis that some get pregnant when they are out is like stopping all motorists from driving because some have crashes.

Workers who have regular days off (preferably weekly) when they can meet other domestic workers and build up friendships have an opportunity to get good advice on how to look after themselves. Long periods of isolation in an employers’ house leave them lonely, emotionally deprived and more liable to fall into a potentially damaging relationship at some point than a more normal way of life, with easy access to the outside world, would. They need time off, like everyone else and nothing justifies taking that from them.

Yours faithfully,

John Gee
Immediate Past President

This was the letter he responded to:

MADAM CHUA LAI KEOW: ‘I repatriated my 32-year-old maid to the Philippines in August after the regular, mandatory medical check-up revealed she was pregnant. The check-up also pointed to the probable period she was impregnated – on her day off, only her second since she started working for my family. She also admitted to the maid agency that she had sex on her day off. The trust we the employer placed in her has been shaken and we wonder now whether she had invited her male companion into our home in our absence. Naturally, we also worry whether she was infected and introduced the infection into our home. It was unfortunate that she realised the seriousness of her action only on the way to the airport. Her regret included feelings of shame, as well about having to face her loved ones. She is married with four children. I am writing this to appeal to maids to consider the potential consequences of their actions if they decide to have sex. What my maid did also explains why Singapore employers may not be in favour of giving their maids a day off.’

 

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John Gee’s letter was published in the print edition of the Straits Times, October 10, 2011. The only significant editorial change was substituting ‘maids’  for ‘domestic workers’. Alicia Hock wrote to the newspaper in reply. Here is her letter as published on October 15, 2011:

Present policy on days off for maids works

I disagree with the reply by maids advocate Transient Workers Count Too (‘No reason to deny maids a day off’; Monday) to Madam Chua Lai Keow’s concern over a maid’s trustworthiness (‘Pregnant with worry’; Oct 4).

A maid can choose, contractually, whether she wants a day off or cash in compensation.

If a maid wants a day off, she can always choose to work for employers who agree to her precondition.

Even if a maid contractually chooses to be paid in lieu of days off, she can get what she wants if she prefers a day off, by seeking a new employer.

Let us not make it seem as if she cannot, or will not switch employers. One former maid I hired had worked for six different employers in two years while another worked for eight. Maids do not think twice about switching employers because they lose nothing financially. When a maid wants to leave, an employer cannot refuse.

From my experience, maids leverage on several ways to break her contract and get a transfer. She refuses to work. And if she has to, she adopts a poor attitude and breaks household items.

A recalcitrant maid also feigns unstable behaviour or hops into a cab and seeks sanctuary at her embassy.

The point is, many maids do not need a day off every week. Otherwise, why are there many instances of maids working part-time illegally on their days off.

So the best option is what’s being done now: Allow maids the choice of choosing whether they want a day off weekly or monthly, or none.

Alicia Hock (Madam)