Straits Times Forum, 12 March 2020

Higher water use: Don’t blame maids

I wish to suggest a very different reading of the results of the survey of household water consumption by national water agency PUB (Homes with maids use more water: Survey, March 10).

Given that households that employ domestic workers used more water than those that did not, the conclusion in the report was that domestic workers should receive training on how to conserve water.

This places the responsibility for excessive water use on the workers rather than their employers.

One obvious reason for the disparity in water use is that domestic workers tend to be employed by wealthier households, and it is this factor that primarily explains their heavier water use.

If toilets are washed and floors are mopped over three times as often in households where domestic workers are employed, that is surely the decision of the workers’ employers, not the workers themselves.

Likewise, the impulse to eat more meals at home in such households is due to employers deciding to make use of the labour they have hired, rather than the workers taking it into their own heads to cook more meals.

In general, people who have low incomes tend to think more about economising on expenses, and might make a greater effort to keep their water consumption in check than those for whom a few dollars more on a water bill may seem like money well spent.

It should also be highlighted that many people employ domestic workers to assist in child or elderly care at home, which may contribute to their higher water use.

Domestic workers certainly ought to be included in green initiatives in Singapore – not just in water efficiency, but also in recycling and reducing waste.

However, this should not be done in a spirit of blaming domestic workers for practices for which they generally do not have the primary responsibility, but be seen as a matter of cooperation for the common good.

John Gee

John Gee is a former President of Transient Workers Count Too.

The referenced article ‘Homes with maids use more water: Survey‘ by Clara Chong can be found at this link (paywall) and was published on 10 March 2020 in the Straits Times.

Opening sentences:

Households with maids use 20 per cent more water than those without, a survey by national water agency PUB has found.

On average, the daily per capita consumption of such homes is 160 litres, while that of homes without a maid is 135 litres.

The reason for the higher water consumption could be that washing and cooking activities are done more often in homes with maids, PUB said yesterday.

Still, the findings, based on 400 households surveyed between September 2018 and March last year, show consumption is declining when compared with an earlier period. Between September 2016 and April 2017, the corresponding daily per capita consumption hit 164 litres and 142 litres.

The results of the latest poll, in which around 15 per cent of the households have maids, were released alongside the launch of the agency’s annual water conservation campaign yesterday.