The Guide is so watered down, it is little more than mush.

The long-overdue rule that one rest day per month cannot be bought back by employers of domestic workers has now been fleshed out in an online pamphlet which the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released on its Facebook page on 7 October 2022. However, as we shall discuss below, it is much less than it pretends to be.

Singapore’s Employment of Foreign Manpower Act requires that an employer “shall grant the foreign employee a rest day without pay for every 7-day period (including Sunday and public holidays). The rest day must be any day within the 7-day period and must be mutually agreed between the employer and the foreign employee.”  – Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012, Fourth Schedule, sections 12 to 14.

However, the same sections of the Regulations say that “the employer does not have to grant a rest day to the foreign employee” if there is a replacement rest day or if there is “a monetary compensation which shall not be less than the rate of pay for one day’s work” in lieu of the rest day.

The last provision is widely used to make domestic workers work seven days a week, sometimes for months on end.

Workers made to give up their rest days are particularly vulnerable to stress and overwork. Employers who think nothing of demanding continuous work from their employees tend also to be intolerably demanding in other respects, e.g. food, sleeping hours, workload, phone use, and so on.

The new rule that one rest day per month cannot be compensated away is thus a tiny step forward, though it is worth recalling that it was first announced in July 2021, but will only take effect from 1 January 2023, eighteen months later. Very few by-laws get such a long runway.

Even so, the details in the guidance pamphlet are underwhelming. Below are TWC2’s observations:


First, it says that a rest day can be taken any day of the week “if both parties agree”. Any observer of realities in the domestic work sector will know that the power imbalance between employer and employee is so unequal, it is virtually impossible for a foreign domestic worker to resist a “suggestion” by her employer.

This figleaf of mutual agreement is plastered all over the pamphlet, appearing alongside many provisions. By way of example, one page of the pamphlet is reproduced below and each time this pretense of modesty is deployed, we have added an “A” to mark the spot.

As readers will have noticed, it gets worse. The rest day can be split into two half-days. And nowhere is the duration of a rest day defined. Instead there is a vague mention that “most employers give their [migrant domestic workers] at least eight hours of continuous break” (marked as “B” above), which implies that a rest day is eight hours. Thus, if it is split into two half-days, each half-day, by extension, need only be of four hours’ duration.

This permits employers to perpetuate the practice of demanding that the domestic worker finish her chores for the day before she can have her “rest day”.

Why, we wonder, does MOM use the evasive language of saying “most employers…” instead of clearly defining duration?

The pamphlet takes an over-literal meaning of “rest day”, ignoring the main benefit of time-off for workers, which is to be able to socialise, move around, and shop. To do this meaningfully, workers must have a substantial number of continuous hours (e.g. a full stretch from waking up and going to bed on a calendar day), especially if the worker has to spend an hour or two travelling to meet her friends or relatives. A full day is the recognised meaning of rest day for workers within the scope of the Employment Act. MOM should apply exactly the same meaning with respect to domestic workers and not water it down.

What the Guide doesn’t say

As important as what the Guide says, is what it does not. In this regard, we have noticed these:

  1.  No mention of consequences for employers who fail to comply with this new rule;
  2.  No mention of remedies available for domestic workers whose employers fail for comply (see footnote) ;
  3.  No mention about whether it is permissible for an employer to refuse to let the domestic worker out of the home on her rest day;
  4.  No bar against employers stipulating inconvenient hours as the rest period (e.g. in the middle of the night when bus services and shops are not operating).

Worse yet, page 9 of the pamphlet suggests that an employer may wish to “align expectations” for a rest day by discussing with the domestic worker what she should do and where she could go on her day off. This is wrong. Her rest day is her private leisure time, and employers should not assume they have any right to interfere with her choices, however subtly communicated. Nor should MOM be endorsing such notions.

Basically, like the mush that results when toilet paper gets into water, this Guide deserves to be flushed. MOM needs to start over again.

The reality is that once an employer deliberately fails to grant the domestic worker a mandatory non-compensated rest day, the employment relationship is breaking down. Remedy cannot be conceived merely as one where MOM orders the employer to grant the rest day. The working relationship having been soured, the worker is vulnerable to other kinds of abuse following the complaint. Considering too that the employers have complete freedom to cancel a Work Permit at any time, there is a high chance that the domestic worker will lose her job as a form of retaliation.

MOM should guarantee that any domestic worker who loses her job following a complaint about her employer not granting her a non-compensated rest day – whether the loss of the job comes immediately after the complaint or after some delay – will get a right to look for a new job without needing to get the former employer’s consent.

Better yet, this should be a general rule. Any worker whose Work Permit has not been renewed upon expiry or cancelled prematurely should be free to switch employers without the ex-boss’ agreement. Giving workers this right is the first and necessary step we need to take to give meaning to the “mutual agreement” provisions plastered all over the pamphlet. Otherwise, it’s just so much hypocrisy.

We are heartened to see members of the public concerned about the same issue. For example, here is a letter published in the Straits Times Forum page on 19 October 2022:

MOM should define what constitutes a rest day for maids

From Jan 1, 2023, all employers must give their domestic workers at least one rest day each month that cannot be compensated with cash (Maids to get one mandatory rest day a month from Jan 1, Oct 8).

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said the rest day can be taken on any day of the week and over two half-days, and encouraged employers to come to a mutual agreement with their domestic workers on the arrangements.

But in MOM’s press release, as well as the guide it released to help employers and domestic workers come to an agreement, it does not define what constitutes a rest day.

A specific definition is needed as employers and domestic workers may have different views on what constitutes a rest day – is it, say, 12 hours from 7am to 7pm, or is it 24 hours from 7am to 7am the next day?

Different households require different things from their domestic workers. Some may need them to start work as early as 6am, especially those with young school-going children, and end their work day at about 10pm after dinner and washing up. Some may even need them to care for the sick or elderly at odd hours of the night.

If the rest day can be divided into two half-days, unreasonable employers might tell the domestic worker to take a half-day of six to eight hours off, but still require her to complete the rest of the household chores upon her return on those days.

Hence, the domestic worker would be essentially doing the same amount of work on her half-day off. With such an arrangement, the domestic worker would certainly not be able to rest and recharge to cope with the next few weeks of labour.

Since domestic workers are basically on call or on duty for 24 hours a day, they should also be allowed a complete 24 hours off on their rest day. To protect the welfare of domestic workers, MOM should officially define a rest day as a full 24 hours off.

Raoul Sequeira