All it takes is one bad experience and an internet connection to start venting your spleen against a maid. Or eight in the case of one blogger.
‘Employing a Maid in Singapore’ was conceived to offer support to “employers who have suffered at the hands of bad maids”. It is one of a number of blogs set up by employers in Singapore to vent their frustrations against maids.
The blogger, called Tamarind, publishes advice on how to help employers better manage maids. Some of it is very well directed and comes from her own experiences of having hired and fired eight maids. I did ask her some questions for this article but she has not replied.
Mums who visit this blog are told that the best way to manage a domestic maid is by taking firm control, firstly through establishing boundaries.
Tamarind has 33 essential House Rules: ‘You must bathe and wash your hair everyday’; ‘Fingernails must be kept short’; ‘Cannot lie’; ‘Cannot steal’; ‘Cannot scold or beat children’. Some rules have footnotes with more rules.
Future employers are told that recruiting a good maid is basically a numbers game. Advice is blunt and employers are encouraged to dispense of a bad maid quickly and be prepared to change several times if it is not working out.
“Employing a maid is like gambling, and employers must be prepared to lose money,” Tamarind says in one of her comments. Her advice is wide ranging and regularly targets politicians for not better supporting Singapore mums. On a post on the Prime Minister’s Facebook page she blames ‘bad’ maids for Singapore’s low birthrate. “If we can have good maids to help us, I am sure that many Singaporean women will choose to have more babies.”
Through a separate blog ‘Employers’ nightmares‘ – also run by Tamarind – she offers an extension of her services to her community of employers. In some cases she posts the names, nationality and last three digits of the work permits of ‘bad’ maids to snuff out any chance of future employment.
On another blog, an expat mum writes: “Were we to hire a new helper, I’d bring my purse into my bedroom at night, and I’d be more aware of my cash, removing temptation.” She wrote this after her maid allegedly stole some money in 2011 and her blog relays in exhaustive detail the investigation, firing and eventual deportation that followed. [Addendum 6 May 2013: see footnote]
The blogger ‘Life as a Singapore domestic maids employer‘ worries that her maid will be misled and “end up on the wrong path and bring back contagious diseases” from her day off.
As part of her house rules she demands respect from her young maid: “You are an employee and have no rights nor can you force your employers to do things, like you are the mistress of the house. Respect your employers and carry out your duties as instructed. Be a co-operative, honest, clean & hygienic, helpful, patient and responsible helper.”
A lot of employers new to Singapore will turn to the internet for advice on how to hire and how to set expectations of a new maid, but as is a common problem online only the worst-case scenarios are being published. A Facebook page – a Singaporean’s view of FDWs – has now been set up to encourage employers to vent their frustrations in social media.
But good maids aren’t in short supply in Singapore.
The sad thing is that few, if any, parents in Singapore regularly take to blogs or social media to talk about how their maid potty-trained their two-year-old or taught them to say ‘thank you’. To find a good recent example of that you have to go to the New York Times’ parenting blog Motherlode. However, there is a good example here of a Singaporean mum documenting life without a maid.
But the internet is a permanent archive, where the worst stories about maids are being circulated, shared and retold around restaurants, bars and barbecues in Singapore. New employers are relying more and more on these resources when they’re making decisions about who to hire, and they’re learning how easily disposable maids can be if things don’t work out.
There are obviously domestic workers out there who may be opportunists and who create a bad name for the countless others who do their jobs perfectly. Employers are forgetting that as employees domestic helpers have no obligation to stay if they feel they’re not being treated with respect.
Are these blogs actually helping or are they re-inforcing stereotypes?
“Some employers feel that it’s only their right to resort to deliberate means to set domestic workers apart by imposing rules and regulations that demean domestic workers and put them in an inferior corner,” says TWC2 Vice President Noorashikin Abdul Rahman.
“Strangely, it is these same employers who expect the domestic workers to embrace their work with a personal touch when they care for children, the elderly or cook for the family: they would expect their domestic workers to treat them as their own family and do these chores with tender loving care. I find this spectacularly unfair and exploitative.”
We still see numerous complaints from maids about the conditions they are subjected to by employers in Singapore: a lot aren’t allowed to use mobile phones, some have CCTV cameras monitoring them in their bedrooms, there are food shortages and girls working for longer and longer hours. One maid recently told me about a proposition made by her employer – her mobile phone or her day off. She chose the mobile phone.
Their stories are pretty awful too. And none of them are blogging about it.
LIFE IN THE HOUSE OF TAMARIND
On Using CCTV to Monitor Maids…
“Installing a CCTV is expensive. One very cheap alternative is to put a webcam, connected to your PC, then use www.skype.com which is free. Set your skype to automatically accept incoming calls. Tell your maid that you will call in to check at any time, and that you can see her through the camera. Then she will not dare to do anything funny.”
“Everything my maid eats is different from us. I advise all employers to separate the maid’s food/toiletries right from the beginning. I drink UCC and Illy coffee which can cost up to $20 a packet… don’t expect me to share with the maid!”
On Employer Privacy…
“My house rules disallow my maid to open any of our cupboards or touch anything on our shelves without my permission. My maid is also not allowed to enter any bedrooms without permission. When she has nothing to do, she stays in the kitchen, or inside her own room (she sleeps in the bomb shelter).”
On Misconceptions of Maids…
“If all FDWs are poor people who want to work for a better life, why don’t they want to work hard? There are many maids who asked to be sent home after working for only a few weeks, or even days, they came to Singapore for a free and easy holiday. Note that they do not have to pay any money to come to Singapore, employers pay for everything.”
In reply to Minister Tan’s ‘You Make a Great Difference’ at 2nd Foreign Domestic Workers Day…
“…The maids came to work for us because of the salary that we pay them. Why should we be grateful to them? In fact, the maids should be grateful to us! Otherwise they will be at home without a job or earning only SGD100 a month. You assume that all maids are hardworking. The fact is that many maids come to Singapore to enjoy life, not to work hard.”
Transient Workers Count Too received a complaint about from the cited blogger, Expat Bostonians, about the reference to her blog in this article. She has written a rebuttal here. We have reviewed the substance of her complaint and our response can be found at this link.